It was a cloudy afternoon and lonely specks of rain dropped on the faces of students from the Shepparton English Language School, but the only thing on their minds was a ball and the field.
Many of the Afghan, Syrian and African students have left behind countries that may now be uninhabitable for them, and a chance on the football field gives them a distraction from all they left behind.
An initiative of the Shepparton English Language Centre, the Shepparton Ethnic Council and Goulburn Murray AFL, the students have been able to take part in a four-week Australian Rules football clinic.
Shepparton English Language School co-ordinator Laurie Hucker said the clinics were a way for the students to break barriers and integrate easier into the wider community.
The centre regularly incorporates Australian culture, history and fauna education into the curriculum as a way to ease new arrivals into their new way of life.
‘‘We see ourselves as the gentle step to getting into the Australian way of life, because it’s a real culture shock otherwise,’’ Mr Hucker said.
‘‘Some students have come directly from a traumatic sort of environment, through Aleppo in Syria and some out of refugee camps, and you’re probably seeing them now at their best.
‘‘Most of them are at a stage now where they’re comfortable with us. They take a while for trust to build and everything, which takes a good couple of months, (for) some it might take six.’’
Almost 100 students attend the tiny centre.
Mr Hucker said the centre was a gradual ease into the wider community, and teachers had to find a balance between following the rules and policies, as well as empathising with the students.
‘‘We usually find that by just being ourselves and introducing them to activities like this is what works in helping them settle,’’ he said.
‘‘We tell them it’s a way to forget about the problems and get on with a happy life.’’