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11 March 2021
Amira* conquers her fears to achieve a long-held goal
Major Bryce Davies is a Salvation Army officer (pastor) who has worked for many years with marginalised communities in Queensland and New South Wales. In this second edition of a four-part series, focusing on the lives of different people Bryce has come across while serving in the often-troubled suburbs of Greater Western Sydney, he tells the story of Amira*, and her courage in starting a new life in Australia. Story printed with permission.
I got the gist of how to teach English to migrants through the Salvos in Western Sydney, where they run a vibrant and effective program.
As it turns out, English conversational classes are more about having a bit of fun and making people feel comfortable than knowing grammar and syntax. The Salvos have great resources for this, and the learning is interesting and fun.
So, I started teaching and absolutely loved it. The class was a mixture of Arabic, Farsi, Korean and Chinese-speaking people. There were a few support workers there to help translate what I was saying and give some ‘one-on-one’ help.
We had fun singing national anthems, playing cricket and even went on a trip to the zoo. Best of all, we got to share culturally unique food each week. I was an enthusiastic participant in this aspect of the program and made sure people brought generous helpings of falafels and baklava and explained everything about them, as I stuffed myself silly on these delicious treats. All for a good cause.
One lady in the class was Amira, who had recently come to Australia with her family from the Middle East, fleeing the dangers of war. She is a delightful and enthusiastic woman and we got on well.
At a neighbouring centre, the Salvos run a Drive for Life program, which is a driver training and mentoring program that equips people who are experiencing adversity to obtain their licence. The program makes special provision for new arrivals in Australia. I asked if anyone in the class wanted to get some driving lessons, and they all said yes. So, I then volunteered to become a driver for the program and started taking people driving.
This was without doubt the scariest work I did. We often drove up gutters and I regularly had to grab the wheel and save us from a nasty scrape.
Amira was one of the ladies I started driving with. I would pick her up in the Salvos car and off we would go for an hour, driving around the quiet streets of the local neighbourhood. Afterwards, I was always invited into her home, which seemed to calm my nerves as she placated me with yummy food and delightful hospitality. Her whole family became my friends. Amira’s husband, Jamal*, is quite frail – he was injured a few years ago – and I spent many hours sitting with him and chatting. He is a kind and gentle man with a beautiful spirit, despite his significant suffering, and he and I are like brothers. He kisses me on the cheek three times every time he sees me.
When Amira finally went for her driving test and got her licence, my faith in the power of prayer and sense of relief was immense. It was a fabulous achievement. To have a driver’s licence – a card with your name and photo on it – is an important way to feel part of Australian society.
It was an absolute delight to engage with this family, and Amira always refers to me as “a very important man”. When you are a new to Australia and have very few friends, any Aussie who takes an interest and gets involved is very important.
My life is so much richer because I know these important people, too.
*Names have been changed