Educator of the year nominee recognised for refugee work

April 10, 2019

Educator of the year nominee recognised for refugee work

Award nominee Margaret Chittenden in her office, surrounded by the faces of refugees she has dedicated her working life to. Source: Gavin McCardle

An unsuspecting Selwyn College staff member has been nominated by colleagues for an education award that recognises her work with refugees in New Zealand.

England-born Margaret Chittenden is the director of the refugee programme at Selwyn College, which provides support and learning for refugees.

When notified of her nomination for the Adult and Community Education (ACE) ‘Tangata Tiriti’ award, which recognises outstanding service in development of the ACE Sector, Ms Chittenden was a “bit embarrassed”.

“The work is so much of a team effort,” she said. “I’m not just being humble; there are other people who work very hard as well.”

However Ms Chittenden, who migrated to New Zealand in her mid-20s, appreciates the acknowledgement.

“It is good to think that this programme has been recognised. We do look after people and our students do really value what we do and consider us part of their extended family.”

Ms Chittenden’s work with refugees began at the Mangere Refugee Centre, where she taught English as a second language.

In the wake of the Tampa refugee crisis, an opportunity arose for Ms Chittenden to become a teacher at the refugee programme at Selwyn College in Kohimarama.

She then transitioned to director of the programme and is described by workmates as “tireless” and “tenacious”.

“She will go into battle, she will push, she will not give up or give in,” colleague Gavin McCardle said.

“She just works and works and works. She’s dedicated her professional life to the welfare of her adult students.”

This work involves teaching, administration, and coordinating extra activities for the refugees, such as gardening, sewing and patchwork.

“There’s no such thing as a typical day, which is really what makes it such an exciting job,” Ms Chittenden said.

“We support our students through various trials and tribulations. Sometimes they have got other issues because settling in a new country is pretty tough.”

Many of the refugees are living on benefits and arrive with nothing, making them some of the poorest people in the country, Ms Chittenden said.

“However you would never know that because they are very focused on making a new life for themselves.”

Something that makes the Selwyn College refugee programme unique is the free childcare onsite, which aids in the early education of refugee children.

“Children are leaving at 5 [years old] fluent in English as well as their own language and have done really well when they go onto school because they’ve had a strong start in life,” Ms Chittenden said.

For her, seeing benefits such as this is the true reward.

“For me I see the reward in the faces of our students, in how they move on to the next chapter in their lives and the reward in the children doing so well,” she said.

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