I didn’t think Bec would agree to feature as one of my Humans of Hampton! She’s very low key but we catch up nearly every week to solve the world’s problems over numerous cups of tea. And while some of us (me!) rant on about the less than favourable treatment of those less fortunate, Bec actually works day to day with some of the most vulnerable people in the state – refugee children. Meet Bec…
I grew up in South London in Greenwich. I have an older brother, Peter and a younger sister, Anna. Dad was a teacher, mum was a social worker and they knew of three kids: Jackie, Teddy and Bobby, who’d come over from Jamaica with their mum. Sadly, their mum had died of an asthma attack and they had no family in Britain so had to go into DHS care. Dad was a teacher at their school and mum had heard of them through her social work. They started to visit mum and dad’s at weekends because they couldn’t find them a home together; partly because they were black but there was quite a big age gap – they were around 6, 11 and 15 years old. Around the time Peter was born they started staying all school holidays.
A couple of weeks before I was born mum and dad bought a biggish house and permanently fostered Jackie, Teddy and Bobby. So mum pretty much went from having one child to five, all ages. She was just a young person herself. When I was born mum always says that I sort of had two mums because Jackie was 15 then, so she helped looked after me. By the time Anna was born, Teddy and Jackie had left home so it wasn’t that many years where we all lived together.
They all still live around London. Ted has always been a campaigner for gay rights. Jackie, a teacher, is a campaigner against racism and Bobby works in IT. I was very little and always looked at the situation very positively and have a good relationship with them now and I see them when we go home. We keep in contact through Mum and Facebook and when I finished uni I went to Jamaica with Jackie to try and trace her family which was an amazing experience.
Mum and dad’s marriage split up so I’m not sure if the pressure of having five kids and dad being a workaholic had anything to do with it. Mum had this crazy amount to deal with, as well as working part time. She was a social worker with haemophiliacs who’d contracted HIV through blood transfusions and dad became a principal of a high school very much like where I am now. It was a new comprehensive in the middle of housing commission homes in London, so he had similar situations to where I work; social services and adult education all at this one school.
Mum and dad split when I was 10. First of all dad moved upstairs and then mum moved out and lived in a bedsit. Mum and dad took turns to move in and out so that we could stay in our family home until I was 17 when they sold it. My sister was still only 14 so it was a bit harder for her. It was weird; I found it hard to tell other people because I lived with my dad not my mum for a lot of the time. Peter didn’t tell anyone and Anna told everyone; just the different ways we handled it. I’m grateful to them for doing the tricky part of moving in and out and letting us stay in the house.
I think we kids get our values from our parents. They obviously instilled something in us.
Dad stopped teaching and went into educational consulting and he did some work in New York and Chicago. He worked trying to help disadvantaged kids get a better education; help schools improve learning for all students. Eventually he established a course at university for school improvement and focusing on how to help inner city kids learn better. I think we kids get our values from our parents. My brother’s a nurse for children with severe disabilities and Anna’s a psychotherapist so none of us have strayed far from what they did. They obviously instilled something in us. I’m sure dad’s been a big influence on my teaching career.
I went to uni in Liverpool; did my degree in third world politics and loved it. I did African and South American studies and studied the position of women in third world countries, it was fabulous. It led me to travel to SE Asia, Central America and my favourite place, Cuba.
After my three years in Liverpool I came back to London and studied teaching at uni. I wanted to work in third world countries with kids and some of the stuff that I studied and the reason that I did teaching was so that I could hopefully go and teach overseas. I taught in the east end of London which included many Bangladeshi students and I loved it. I like working with the kids and while I wanted to do a lot of things in my head, once you move up in your career you have less contact with the kids which is what I love the most.
I came back to London and stayed in mum’s house with mum but a few weeks later mum went to visit an old family friend, and then came back and told us that she was going to go live in America with him. So she went on a two week holiday, came back for a while and said goodbye and went. I was left with mum’s house to rent out in London so I rented it out to friends and we had lots of fun. Mum always laughs because every time she came home different people would say “oh I used to live in your house”. Then my bestie said she had an Aussie friend she’d met during ski season who was teaching in London who needed a room. So Brennie moved into his room for four days and the rest is history. I was 23, nearly 24.
We tried to get a defacto Visa for England and we got turned down. Dad intervened and they gave us one of those interviews where you’re in two separate rooms for an hour each answering questions about each other: who leaves for work first, who pays the bills and then they granted it. Brennie stayed a bit but he kept going home and we’d separate and then he’d come back and then I’d come over here and we’d separate. His dad died when he was two and his mum brought up six kids alone so he had a close bond with his family. He always knew that he’d end up coming back here and eventually we came to Australia to live. The biggest grief I had leaving England was leaving dad because mum had already left, though he had remarried at the same time as mum.
It was 1998 and we took about five months to travel back here to Australia and we eventually got to Brennie’s mums at Christmas. I arrived on Christmas Eve and then his 5 siblings and their 15 kids turned up! They were all so welcoming I knew I could stay! I got a teaching job in Langwarrin and he got a teaching job in Collingwood. We lived in his mum’s house for a year or so and after that we thought we need to find a spot half way between Langwarrin and Collingwood. We saw a little place in the paper so we turned up and Robin Parker (a previous Human of Hampton) met us, drove us around showing us all the playgrounds even though we didn’t have kids and he managed on that day to sell us a unit in Kerferd Street. We literally popped in just to see it and he sold it to us!
We then went back to live in England because a couple of our friends were getting married so we stayed for a few months. We just did some teaching over there; Brennie taught in a prison for young offenders and I did some emergency work. Then we decided to have children but I had polycystic ovaries. We tried a bit of treatment and it didn’t work so we thought “let’s have a wedding to take our mind off it”. We organised a little wedding on the beach out the back of his sister’s house. My sister and brother came from London but mum and dad couldn’t so we organised another one in a park in London but in between organising all of that I actually did get pregnant…so I had two weddings pregnant.
Lucy was born in 2002 and it was a week after Lucy’s birth that dad rung me to say they’d found a tumour in his oesophagus and that’s when you feel the distance. I was having quite a hard time after Lucy was born. I flew over with Lou at 5 weeks to see dad before he started his treatment and we had a family holiday with Dad and Maggie, mum and Rock even came.
I came back and dad started his chemo treatment and had the tumour removed. I’m never really sure what happened but the doctors seemed to give him the all clear and he flew over here to see us. While he was here we took him to Noosa and he was in so much pain they scanned him and the cancer was all through his body. So Maggie, my stepmum, had to fly him home and ten days later I flew home to see him again but he died while I was flying. But I was really lucky because I got to say goodbye properly when he was here. I was just reading his obituaries in the paper last night and they said he was determined to fly over to Australia to see his first grandchild.
I was the early years coordinator and teaching a class at Langwarrin. I went back to work part time straight after Lou . We were very lucky that Bren’s mum would look after her 18th and 19th grandchildren whenever we needed and were all devastated in 2010 when she was tragically killed by a garbage truck while walking home along her street.
After having Jamie in early 2005, I didn’t go back to Langwarrin, I decided to change and teach EAL (English as an Additional Language). So I went to the language school, taught there and while I was there the government offered me a free scholarship to do my Masters in EAL. I was then approached to work on the refugee bridging program, so I worked with refugees at schools in Springvale which involved going out and teaching mostly African refugee kids across Springvale at 4 primary schools. The kids were great; so keen to learn and from families who were really keen for them to learn. It’s hard for the African students, such a massive culture shock. I did that for four years and then the funding ran out.
I’m now at Doveton College which has kids from birth to Year 9. Doveton College was a brand new school opened in 2011 by the Department of Education and philanthropist Julius Colman who was a refugee from Poland after the Second World War. His schooling at Elwood High – which at the time was a mix of migrants, refugees and students from every religious background – changed his life. He then became a lawyer, got into property and became a millionaire. He comes to the school alot. He wanted to give back and so he searched the five poorest postcodes in Melbourne and found Doveton. He wanted to make sure that the school had local kids but also he wanted to make sure it was a school that had refugee kids because of his experience at Elwood. He went over to the Andre Agassi School in America and modelled Doveton College on that. The refugee kids are mainly Afghani and Sri Lankan. It’s got Social Services, a paediatrician, maternal health, women’s sewing classes, language classes for women, playgroups, early learning. It’s all in one hub and that was his mission. There’s 700 students; 350 of them speak English as an additional language and there’s 46 different languages in one school. There’s also aboriginal students and local kids who come from a background of generational poverty and getting them on board is one of the hardest jobs for the school. They’re working really hard at it but it’s working.
The first two years were really tough; the behaviour in the playground, the differences in the kids trying to work together and the parents that hated school and blamed school for everything, a lot of learning difficulties, a lot of behavioural issues, classes were really hard to manage but slowly it’s become better and better through lots of restorative justice and dedication of the teachers.
I had one little 6 year old Tamil who’d been separated from her mum and baby sister … and she ended up coming on her own in the boat … this little girl was so traumatised that we did lots of play therapy.
In my second year they got an influx of refugee students and all the language schools were full so they had to quickly make a class of just refugee students which is what I got given and I loved it. All brand new arrivals; some on the boat and some on the plane because their dad had come on a boat and they were on family reunion visas. None who spoke any English, so such a massive culture shock for these kids. I had ages 5 to 11 in one classroom all of them new arrivals from Afghanistan and Sri Lanka. I communicated through actions and pictures. I had one little 6 year old Tamil who’d been separated from her mum and baby sister because of the way they quickly left on a boat from Sri Lanka. Her dad got taken off the boat and arrested in Indonesia and she ended up coming on her own in the boat. There were other Tamils on the boat and she now lives with Aunty who is another Tamil woman but this little girl was so traumatised that we did lots of play therapy. She went off to a great place called Foundation House that does play therapy – she told us her stories of the boat ride, all they had was sea water to drink and they were all squashed on this boat, no toilets, no parents. It was horrific and she was very traumatised. There were other kids that had similar experiences and there were a few that had flown in to meet their dad after three or four years of him being in detention and released into the community. So just a massive breadth of experiences for these kids.
Now I take all the EAL/refugee students out for an hour a day and do intense language work with them and then they go back into their mainstream class. There’s still more refugee kids arriving but although they thought there might be an influx of Syrian refugees it hasn’t happened. We now have a very gentle flow. We’ve got a family of 5 whose dad was killed in the war and the mum and kids waited six years in a refugee camp in Pakistan. They got accepted on a ‘woman at risk visa’ so she came over with 5 kids. She’s got bad depression so her kids are struggling.
There’s four other similar schools planned in Victoria. It’s hard because results are still quite low but we’re working with the trickiest cohort and our school’s got the poorest socio-economic rating of any school but we’re slowly getting there. Five years isn’t that long and now we’ve got a new, very proactive principal who has changed the teaching styles.
Playground duties and walking around classes is now so much calmer. I used to be breaking up fights between kids bigger than me and now there’s hardly any of that. There was a lot of restorative justice to manage the behaviour. It’s all about getting kids ready for learning. We’ve done a lot of work with Berry Street this year who are brilliant.
We bought the house we live in now because I was pregnant and we were living in the tiny little flat in Hampton. We needed a bigger house and we couldn’t afford to buy in Hampton. At the time of buying this house it was a little brick two bedroom house in Hampton East. A week after Jamie was born we moved out and lived with Brennie’s mum in Frankston and renovated.
As my kids head off to Secondary school I reflect on what an amazing childhood they have had in Bayside and how very lucky they are. The contrast between their lives and those of some of the students I teach is huge. They probably hear about that a bit! I love the life we are lucky enough to have here and just wish it wasn’t quite so far to home and my family and friends back there. I miss them.
Currently there’s a petition open to move the asylum seekers currently on Manus Island and Nauru to more humane conditions. You’ll find it here. To read about and/or donate to the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, click here. And to find viewing times around Melbourne and Australia for the new movie Chasing Asylum click here.
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