It’s a typical Monday morning at All Saints Catholic College Liverpool in south-west Sydney, one of the largest and most vibrant Catholic schools in Australia. As students gather around lockers and corridors, preparing for another day of learning, the school resonates with a vibrant energy that sets it apart.

Unlike many typical Australian schools, the college echoes with the laughter and chatter of refugee students from Syria, Iraq and Palestine, contributing to a bustling multicultural community.

This is a place where differences are celebrated, where every student finds a welcoming environment to thrive and grow, while honouring their often extraordinary backgrounds

Underpinning this commitment to supporting refugee students, is Sydney Catholic Schools’ Catholic Education Foundation (CEF). 

The CEF’s Refugee Bursary ensures all children, regardless of their circumstances, have access to a quality Catholic education. It offers crucial support to families who’ve fled their countries of origin to seek safety, peace and opportunity in Australia.

At All Saints Catholic College, the integration and support of refugee students into the school community is approached with a deep sense of compassion. This commitment is evident through various initiatives and perspectives offered within the school community.

A former refugee student returns as a staff member to pay it forward

Former student, Nancy, had only just turned six when war broke out in Syria. 

“We were living a normal life until the war started, then things started to deteriorate and get bad. By the end of 2016, it was a threat to our lives to stay there. There was no electricity, we had to find a solution,” Nancy said. 

Nancy’s family fled to Lebanon and applied to come to Australia. Six months later, aged 13, she and her family set foot on Australian shores for the first time.

Nancy had “always dreamed of a Catholic education,” which is when the CEF came into her life to financially support her academic journey through its Refugee Bursary program. 

“Being able to enrol in a Catholic school with the support of that bursary has changed my life. All Saints Catholic College was my dream school. I will never forget this opportunity,” Nancy said. 

And didn’t the assistance pay off for everyone privileged enough to be involved in Nancy’s journey. 

She achieved an incredible ATAR of 90.65, was included on the HSC Honour Roll, came second in the state for Arabic Continuers, and is now enrolled in a Double Degree of Civil Engineering with Architecture at UNSW Sydney.

While studying, Nancy has returned to her former school as a Learning Support Officer, assisting refugee students and frequently translating into Arabic. During her time at All Saints, she has also learned to speak French and Italian. 

Her advice to the 500 plus refugee bursary students across 39 Sydney Catholic Schools that the CEF supports?

“Study, stay motivated, stay inspired, and work really hard. You got this opportunity to receive a Catholic education for a reason. Make your parents proud, make everyone around you proud, and most importantly, make yourself proud.”

Bridging cultures with multi-lingual support 

Arabic Support Liaison Officer, Randa Khattar, plays a crucial role in supporting refugee students like Nancy, and their families. 

“I ensure a smooth integration into the school community, which starts from the very first day students arrive at our school,” Mrs Khattar said. 

“During initial enrolment meetings, I translate in Arabic for students and their families, explaining how the Australian education system works, our school policies, and all the resources and support systems that are available to them.”

“Most of the refugee students have experienced trauma and they need emotional support. I help staff and teachers understand and recognise the cultural sensitivity and the specific challenges faced by these refugee students.”

Growing up in Lebanon and having lived through war, Randa came to Australia when she was twenty and knows all too well the challenges associated with moving to a new country.

“When I came to Australia, I spoke English, but the dialect was different, and I found it difficult to understand the accent and select words. I would sometimes hide behind my friends and try not to communicate. It wasn’t that I was reluctant to engage but I was worried if I couldn’t understand or find the right words to respond,” Mrs Randa Khattar said.

“At All Saints Catholic College, we understand the importance of creating an inclusive and welcoming environment for all students, regardless of their language and background.”

“Seeing refugee students taking steps towards independence and believing in their abilities is very rewarding. It’s equally heartening for parents to trust our school and allow their children the space to grow and explore.”

A Principal’s commitment to welcome and integration

All Saints Catholic College Principal, David Forrester, explains that the integration of refugee students into the school’s community starts with an attitude and sense of welcome.

“Right from the word go, when we meet with a family, we are building a sense of hope and connectedness. The assistance offered by the CEF is not only extremely appreciated and valued but needed in a lot of circumstances, with some of our families’ financial circumstances quite dire,” Mr David Forrester said.

“When I look at our school community, I take pride in the diversity we have. Our values are inspired by the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, which is reflected in how we welcome our refugee students.”

Currently, 69 students are supported through a CEF Refugee Bursary at the school, where an appreciation and sense of home for students and their families is flourishing.  

“You see it in the faces of our parents and the connections that are made at the school gates at the end of each day. Sometimes it’s just through a small smile, but it gives me authenticity in terms of the work that we’re able to do that is true to our mission,” Mr Forrester said.

Through the perspectives of Principal David Forrester and Arabic Support Liaison Officer Randa Khattar, as well as former student Nancy, it’s evident that financial support for Catholic education removes barriers. 

Additionally, it fosters a supportive environment where students can truly excel and achieve their dreams.

About the CEF

The CEF provides financial support to nearly nine per cent of all students currently enrolled across Sydney Catholic Schools. 

Since 2020, more than 2,966 refugee students like Nancy have been provided with the opportunity to receive the gift of a Catholic education. 

The CEF needs your support to continue its important mission.