School in New Zealand gives teenage Afghan refugee new hope

A young Afghan refugee starts medical school next year and hopes to become a doctor to give back to the country that helped his family.

Noorullah Habibi was 15 when he arrived in New Zealand with his relatives. He has just graduated from Freyberg High School in Palmerston North after spending the past two years on student council and as the international student leader.

He loves everything about New Zealand, he said, especially feeling safe.

Noorullah’s father worked as an interpreter for the New Zealand Army in Bamiyan province. In 2013, the family were among 50 people from the province re-settled in Manawatu to fulfil a “duty of care” for families of the interpreters who worked alongside Kiwi soldiers.

Back home, the family faced the constant threat of terrorism and organised crime, Noorullah said.

“For us it was dangerous when we would go to school. People were kidnapped and killed for money,” he said.

“I was always scared. I used to go to school with my two younger brothers and I was trying to get them safe home so nothing happens to them. We couldn’t go through alleyways. We had to use the main roads.”

The Afghan education system was grim too. As a 10-year old Noorullah learned 17 subjects, and pupils were discouraged from talking to the teacher or other pupils.

Different teachers came to the class for each subject, but would often not come in for much of the week as they needed to keep working on their farms. When teachers did come to class, much of a week’s material would be delivered in one monologue.

It was almost impossible to learn, Noorullah said. Of his class of 60, only about 10 pupils followed the material. Those who passed often had families who could afford private tuition.

“I knew year 7 and 8 students who couldn’t read or write something,” he said.

Four months of the year there was no school and he was lucky enough to take an English lesson once a week.

Coming to school in New Zealand has been an incredible opportunity, but was difficult for the first year, he said. “I had very basic English, everything was a challenge.”

He worked on improving his language skills in ESOL class and by watching movies and YouTube videos, and reading news articles.

Once communication became easier the different teaching style benefited Noorullah and maths and science subjects became easy, he said.

He loves that Kiwi pupils are encouraged to ask questions, talk between themselves about the topic and that lessons are broken up with videos and activities.

“New Zealand gave me the chance to live another life, to live again, pretty much, so I said, ‘well, they gave me this opportunity, why don’t I give back to this country something that could help?'”

He has enrolled in the foundation year of medical school at Otago University for 2017 and is considering becoming a surgeon.

Red Cross MidCentral humanitarian services manager Sonja De Lange said there were many examples of refugees offering value in New Zealand.

“We know how much former refugees can contribute to their new communities and have seen numerous examples of this in Palmerston North.

“From setting up businesses to volunteering to launching successful careers that give back to New Zealand, people from refugee backgrounds have a lot to offer the country.”

Source: Stuff News

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