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Double celebrations for AMEP at NSF

By Fiona West | July 28, 2023

Navitas Skilled Futures has hosted a double celebration for the Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP) – the combined anniversaries of 75 years of the AMEP in Australia and 25 years of delivery of the program by Navitas Skilled Futures.

The event, held at Bankstown on Wednesday, was attended by representatives from the Australian Government Department of Home Affairs, which funds the AMEP, along with more than 60 guests from migrant and refugee services and community organisations, past and present AMEP staff and students and NSF friends and partners.

The Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP) is a free service to help eligible migrants and humanitarian entrants improve their English language skills and settle into Australia. The world-first program, launched in 1948, has evolved over its 75-year history to help people participate more fully in their communities, learn about Australia, and gain new skills for work and everyday life. Over time the program has adapted to include free childcare, a volunteer tutor scheme, online learning and other work and life skills sub-programs.

Navitas Skilled Futures Executive General Manager Michael Cox (pictured above) took guests on an historic journey of the AMEP, showing images and video from as early as post WWII Australia, from the first English tuition class for new migrants in Bonegilla, Victoria, to the comprehensive modern program being run across Australian colleges today.

“The AMEP was born in the late 1940s in the spirit of collaboration to build the population, economic prosperity and security of the nation, and today has evolved into a program which provides individual pathway support, community building, specific workplace skills and more, to individuals who become valued and contributing members of our communities,” he said.

Michael said in his 27 years working in the AMEP, 15 of which for Navitas, he had been fortunate to witness first-hand the “life-changing outcomes” delivered not just to clients, but also flowing through to their families and their communities.

“Key to these outcomes over the past 25 years at Navitas, has been innovation and collaboration between providers, community, government, and other key stakeholders, to deliver an outstanding settlement English program by national and international standards.”

Acting Assistant Secretary of the Migrant English and Language Services Branch of the Department of Home Affairs, Caroline Hatswell (pictured below), thanked NSF for its contribution to the AMEP, and said the Department was “incredibly proud” of how the program had empowered people through language and connected them to community.

“In the 75 years [the AMEP] has been running, it has touched many lives,” Caroline said.

“We know that about 2 million participants have been involved in the program, and that’s about 170,000 in the past six years alone – and that’s just participants. So when you take into account teaching staff, administration and volunteers, we know the AMEP has touched many, many people’s lives.”

Keynote speaker, Hedayat Osyan (pictured above), is one of those people. He told the audience how learning English transformed his life.

The founder of CommUnity Construction – a social enterprise that has created work and life opportunities for more than 75 refugees – said without good English, refugees were in danger of being exploited, underpaid and unable to settle effectively and live their best lives.

“English is not just a language; it is a fundamental skill that opens doors to countless opportunities,” Hedayat said.

“For refugees and migrants, mastering English is essential for integration, communication, and self-sufficiency. It is the key that unlocks access to education, employment, and the ability to contribute meaningfully to society.”

Originally from Afghanistan, Hedayat came to Australia by boat from Indonesia, after fleeing the Taliban who attacked his home village. He risked his life for his freedom and, after being released from detention on Christmas Island, he was so grateful to Australia that he made it his life’s mission to give back, helping other refugees and asylum seekers through training, support and employment.

“My first job in Australia was working on a construction site,” Hedayat said. “I experienced first-hand how limited English, communication and digital skills could lead to exploitation and isolation. It puts people at an extreme disadvantage, not just in the workforce but in day-to-day life.

“Learning English transformed my life. It made me less vulnerable and empowered me with confidence and independence. No longer did I have to rely on others.”

“It also paved the way for further education. I pursued a Bachelor’s Degree in Politics and International Relations, followed by an Honours Degree in Arts and Design from the University of Canberra. Through hard work and determination, I realised my dream of becoming a social entrepreneur and giving back to the Australian community.”

Three students from three different backgrounds also spoke at the event about their positive experience with the AMEP Program at NSF:

Aieshee, from Bangladesh, who not only found her dream job in IT after the AMEP and Pathways to Work program, but also conquered her water phobia through the English for Swimming project, said: “My main goal was to improve my English communication and know the culture, meet people from different countries who had migrated like me, and to build a network. [The AMEP] helped me with all of these! But I had no idea that I will get so many other bonus gifts. Navitas is like a family for me.”

Nezar, a recent arrival from Syria, where he worked for 35 years as a pediatrician, said: “When we came to Australia we faced many challenges. The first one is language, because I studied medicine in my country in Arabic. At Navitas I am improving my English language because I have good teachers and I study hard.” First I will improve my language and after that I will present my scientific competency to work as a pediatrician or General Practitioner in Australia, because I have 35 years’ experience in my country.”

Zein, from Indonesia, who is working as a web designer while completing his Bachelor of Design and Visual Communication at Western Sydney University, said his AMEP volunteer tutor helped him overcome homesickness, believe in himself and focus on self growth and development: “I expected to improve my English, but I did not expect [the AMEP] would become the catalyst for transforming my life.”

Navitas Skilled Futures General Manager Jetinder Macfarlane said since 1998, Navitas had provided the tools to more than 250,000 people of all ages, backgrounds and nationalities, to help them settle with confidence to integrate, work in, and contribute to, society and achieve their full potential.

“In our 25 years of delivering the Adult Migrant English Program, we are grateful for the strong relationships we have built up with organisations, businesses and individuals in the refugee and migrant space, collaborating on a range of courses, projects and initiatives to empower students and also help reinforce positive multicultural messaging to the wider community,” she said.

“In the program’s 75th year we are delighted to be able to bring some of those people together and to hear from those for whom the AMEP has really helped to transform their lives.”

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