Teaching bushfire awareness to new arrivals in the Adelaide Hills

Teaching bushfire awareness to new arrivals in the Adelaide Hills

02 July 2015

published by www.abc.net.au 

Australia–  A bushfire can be a terrifying experience, especially if the warnings being broadcast are in a language you don’t understand.

Program officer at the Tea Tree Gully Library, Symon Williamson, said integrating bushfire awareness into their English literacy tutorage program has become a necessity after recent Adelaide Hills’ emergencies.

“We have a program that is aimed at both people who are new arrivals in Australia and have English as their second language, and also Australians who have slipped through the cracks in their schooling and lack basic literacy skills,” Mr Williamson said.

The program is used to encourage students to share their experiences, alert them of the risks of living in the area and prepare them for emergency situations.

With one of the worst bushfires in history experienced in the Mount Lofty Ranges and Tea Tree Gully area earlier this year, Mr Williamson said residents who struggled to understand warnings would have felt quite panicked.

“If you have limited English and limited support from the community, it can be quite a frightening thing,” he said.

“You can’t understand what is going on, you can’t understand the alerts that are going out, you don’t know who to ask or where to go to find out what is going on.”

Almost 3 per cent of residents are new arrivals and 13 per cent of all residents have English as their second spoken language in the City of Tea Tree Gully Council area.

“We have growing communities of Chinese, Indian, African and Filipinos moving to the area,” Mr Williamson said.

Results of the 2011 Census also showed growing numbers of new arrivals from Iran, South Sudan and Afghanistan in the area.

“Some areas of Tea Tree Gully are in a high-risk area and [the recent fire] hammered it home that this is something that needs to be addressed with these community areas,” Mr Williamson said.

Educational kits and sessions for non-English-speaking residents

Country Fire Services (CFS) community partners and engagement project officer Oshanna Alexander said the organisation was actively trying to ease residents’ concerns ahead of the oncoming bushfire season.

Ms Alexander will host a session for the Tea Tree Gully Library’s English literacy class explaining bushfire risks and responses in the area, providing easy to understand information for participants to learn how to react in an emergency.

“We use a nationally recognised ‘easy English’ format for our presentations and have our main bushfire information guides and travellers’ information translated into easy English and several of the main languages such as Arabic, Chinese, Persian and a range of African, Asian and Middle Eastern languages,” Ms Alexander said.

The agency has found it is common for the males of the families to have higher English skills and be working full-time.

“Often the people who will be left at home to make the decisions are the women and children … so we really want to inform those people we would see as having an extra level of vulnerability,” she said.

Courses have been introduced for multicultural groups in country areas at Renmark and Berri, with the Tea Tree Gully information session the first run within the capital city area.

Ms Alexander said the main function of the courses was to quell fears among culturally diverse and sometimes isolated groups in the areas.

“We want to break past the fear barrier, because we don’t want people panicking at the last minute and making decisions that could affect their safety,” she said.

The council is inviting residents who are new arrivals or with limited English skills to attend a special bushfire awareness session at the Tea Tree Gully Library on Wednesday July 22, 2015.

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