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Playmakers build hope and trust

by Michèle Nardelli

THE NEW ARRIVALS OUTREACH INITIATIVE: breaking down barriers through playIt started with a soccer ball and a chance meeting in a local park last May.

When UniSA education lecturer Dr Gary Pennington joined a multicultural group of kids for a few fun-filled hours of games that day, he was struck by the power of play to break down barriers, give young people a sense of belonging and create a learning atmosphere.

A year on and Dr Pennington, with a little help from students, colleagues and community groups, has established an award-winning program that is making a real difference to new arrivals, particularly refugees from war-torn African nations – and at the same time is giving UniSA students access to life-changing educational experiences.

The New Arrivals Outreach initiative, recently named a winner in the Chancellor’s Awards for Community Engagement, has quickly become a highly networked community project that has been incorporated into the students’ program.

Mentoring, managing play, sport, tutoring and music activities after school hours, supporting families and liaising with local councils to develop youth initiatives in the community are now all a part of a Negotiated Study course in the School of Education.

Students engaged in the program are from many different countries themselves and many have been so motivated by the project that they continue to work in the community on a volunteer basis.

The work has drawn from the expertise of UniSA academics across disciplines and involves a core group of 11 students and representatives from 20 community groups, local councils, schools, sporting clubs and colleges.

The student feedback from the course has been exceptional. If the role of education is to open minds and make an impact, you can’t ask for much more than comments like this one from first year student Verity Bruce: "This course has pushed me to extend my boundaries and as a result of getting involved I have learnt more in 13 weeks than I have in my whole life about multiculturalism."