Red Cliffs couple making a difference as volunteers
Volunteering is a way of life for Robert and Cherie Wolfe.
The Red Cliffs couple have been supporting newly arrived migrants and refugees improve their English through conversation sessions as volunteers with migrant and refugee settlement agency AMES Australia.
But their impact goes much further as they have effectively become guides and mentors to people settling in Sunraysia.
The former secondary school teachers help their students to access services and local amenities and to understand the norms and nuances of Australian society.
“We’ve always been volunteering in the community, it’s a generational thing,” Cherie said.
“What we do is mainly about conversation and helping people improve their English but it is much more than that,” she said.
“We find interesting and valuable things to talk about; things ling vaccinations and road rules and local amenities,” Robert added.
“It’s often the simple things that people find valuable. Things like what a supermarket ‘special’ is and the cuts of meat you can buy.
“We went with the teachers from AMES to the library to help the students get a library pass. It’s a thing we take for granted but not obvious for newcomers,” Robert said.
The couple have also provided swimming passes to students and connected some of the young men with local soccer clubs.
“We are really just connecting newly arrived people with the broader community,” Robert said.
Cherie, particularly, supports women who are settling.
“One conversation I had was with a group of women. We talked about their differing settlement experiences in an empathetic way,” she said.
“There were some Indonesians from huge cities arrive in our little town. They were experiencing loneliness and isolation. But another women told of her tiny home village in Africa. The contract was huge.
“Both these scenarios represented huge changes for the women. But there was great empathy between them.
“We see newcomers all working together and it’s a lesson we could all learn from. It’s a window on the Australia we want; where everyone is getting on together.
“I find sometimes women will tell me things that seem to unburden them. One girl told how she had lost her father and brother and then had her child and suffered depression. Over time she improved and is doing well now,” Cherie said.
Robert and Cherie say they get much more out of volunteering than they put in.
“It’s very satisfying. The people we work with are lovely and very grateful. And they are thirsty for knowledge,” Cherie said.
”We get back more than we put in to our volunteering. We go home feeling tired but better about ourselves.
“It’s a lovely experience. As retired people, we could sit at home and be bored. But through volunteering we have learned lots about people and culture, which is lovely.”
Cherie and Robert say migrants and refugees have enriched their community.
“They have a lot to offer and we feel pleased they are coming into our community. Mildura and region is richer for having diverse communities here,” Robert said.
“And it been wonderful for us. We’ve learned a lot from them.”
Robert and Cherie say they would recommend volunteering to others.
“We would definitely recommend it. Basically we back up the AMES English language teachers,” Cherie said.
“We share and listen and speak. At the beginning its practical English conversation but it flows on from there and becomes so much more.
“Another positive is that we are able to share the stories of these new people in town and with the broader community,” she said.
To find out more about volunteering with AMES Australia, phone: 0401 369 340.