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Mercy Works – Mercy Connect Melbourne, Learning Through Connection.

Volunteer tutor-mentor Cressida Crossley and Year 12 students Ayan Macuach and Diana Chol.

The Mercy Connect programme (run by Mercy Works) provides in-school academic support to students from refugee, asylum-seeker or humanitarian backgrounds. In Melbourne, the programme currently supports 1,500 students in 36 schools by pairing them with volunteers with a background in education. In many cases these volunteers do more than just assist with assignments and homework; they are a crucial part of making school a positive experience for children who might previously have had no schooling or a disrupted education due to having to leave their home countries.

Many of these volunteer mentors become advocates for the students they work with and form lifelong bonds with them, helping them with life skills, confidence and often even pathways to further education and employment.

Education professional Cressida Crossley has been working with students Ayan Macuach and Diana Chol from Year 7 through to Year 12. The three explain how meaningful personal connection has helped and educated them all.

Cressida Crossley: The application process to volunteer with Mercy Connect was rigorous, and there were three days of training where we learned about working with refugees and the refugee experience. I really enjoyed it.

I did the Year 7 year tutoring Ayan and on the first day of Year 8, when I returned, Ayan said: “You came back?” And I said: “I will always come back, the deal you are making with me is that you will come back and you will be here until Year 12. And that’s been our deal the whole way through. I knew, once Ayan and I got to the end of Year 7, that this was a six-year commitment. This programme is unique because you’re matched to the student, not the school, and I think that’s a

key part of it. Now, because we’re in year 12, I go to all except one of Ayan’s English lessons and all except one of her maths lessons. There were people in this school who told me she would never do year 12, that she wouldn’t pass VCE English. She’s going to pass year 12, she’s going to go to university – she’s done amazing things. The past three years she’s done work experience in the school holidays; she worked in two legal firms, she’s worked in a magistrate’s court, she worked for a barrister. I think she’s more confident than she was.

I will always say I’ve learned more from Ayan than she’s ever learnt from me. It’s changed me – I’m a much better person. I get to see every success she’s had, I get to see every failure, I get huge hugs. You are allowed to come into a young girl’s life, and you get to go on this amazing journey, and it’s such a privilege. I think as a teacher you get one or two kids in your lifetime you get that close to. Ayan and I will always be friends.

Ayan Macuach: In the beginning it was awkward, I was scared. I didn’t know Cressida and it felt weird. It took maybe a week, and then it was all good. She’s nice and welcoming. I’ve gotten a lot out of it, a lot of help. It’s made school easier. English is the main thing we work on; my English, writing, work-checking.

I’m more organised now with Cressida, in the beginning I wasn’t. It’s really good and helpful. I do recommend it. And we’ve become friends.

Diana Chol: I’ve gotten out of it someone who can understand me and relate to me and, when we’re reading a novel, I wouldn’t understand it, but Cressida can explain it to me in a way I can understand. And while we’re in a big English class, you just talk about it once, but you don’t really understand it unless you’re doing a one-on-one programme.

It’s really good to develop a friendship with the person you’re working with because then it’s better, because if you guys don’t like each other, it’s not going to work.

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