English lessons for Christchurch mosque community will cost more than $100,000

Mosque widow Manal Dokhan will need more proficient English in order to gain the qualifications she needs to work and gain independence.

A group of Christchurch terror attack victims and family members need help learning enough English to work and integrate into Kiwi life.

Many family members dropped everything in their home countries to support their loved ones who were injured in the March 15 mosque attacks, while several widows have been left without the English-speaking husbands they previously relied on.

A social worker says the group needs to undertake formal study so they can gain their independence.

Of the 29 people on Maha Galal’s list of people needing English lessons, 25 – including eight widows – passed a basic English test needed to do further study at Ara Institute.

But it will cost about $105,950 for one semester of course fees between them all, as 10 are still deemed to be international students.

It’s money they cannot afford.

Ara institute is looking into options, but its scholarships for 2020 have already been assigned.

Mosque widow Manal Dokhan relied on her refugee husband Mohsin Al-Harbi, 63, “for everything” before he was killed.

Limited English made it hard to navigate tasks like paying bills, talking with government departments and her doctor, and completing a PhD at Canterbury University or upskilling to teach in schools.

Despite studying lower level English at Ara before the terror attack, she still often needed Google Translate.

“Before, my husband helped me with everything.”

Dokhan was highly educated in Jordan and had a masters degree in education technology.

Her brother Saqr, 44 – whose English has improved enough to hold basic conversations since Stuff last visited the family two months ago – is on a working visa, but cannot work without better English.

He lost his job in Jordan after rushing to support his sister following the attacks and for being away too long.

With qualifications as a barber and in home maintenance, he needs to work here to support his wife and two young daughters back home, while also supporting his sister in Christchurch.

Jody O’Callaghan/Stuff
Saqr Dokhan, 44, came to New Zealand to support his sister, Manal, who had two heart attacks when her husband was killed in Al Noor mosque on March 15. He recently managed to pass the tests needed for a driver’s licence, but limited English stops him from being able to work and support his family.

Saqr – who is usually a social person – said he wanted to have more meaningful conversations with his English-speaking friends.

“It’s very hard to learn because maybe we have Arab friends more than Kiwi friends and always talk my own language,” he said through his sister.

The pair recently gained driver licences, which was “the first step” to independence..

Galal said families were grateful for English lessons given voluntarily, but they needed more formal help.

Some victims also need to retrain due to their injuries, like Mohammad Sahadat whose arm injuries mean he can no longer work as a chef.

Galal wanted those affected by the terror attack to be considered as domestic students.

An Ara spokesman said the English levels of about 20 people affected by the attack had been tested. Several would be subject to higher international student fees as they had not yet gained residency.

The Certificate in English Language course cost $7985 per semester for an international student, and between $1320 and $1740 for a domestic student.

Ara had been unable to provide any direct financial support, but was “looking at options”.

Manal Dokhan relies on the support of her brothers, Saqr, left, and Bader, right, after she had two heart attacks when her husband Mohsin Al-Harbi was killed in the Christchurch terror attack.

Ministry of Education acting tertiary policy general manager Shelley Robertson said the Government had taken a “number of measures” to ensure mosque victims and families got the support they needed to improve their English.

By creating the special residency visa for 153 people – and with another 30 being processed – it enabled them to be considered domestic students with the same subsidised tertiary education as other Kiwis.

The ministry was “currently looking at ways to further improve access to tertiary education for the victims and their families”, but could not elaborate.

Families also had access to free basic English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) lessons.

English lessons for Christchurch mosque community will cost more than $100,000