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A Wonderful Cultural Experience through Mercy Service

Sr Breda O’Reilly (front row right) with members of her class at the Edmund Rice Centre at Mirrabooka.


For the past ten years I have been teaching English to Refugees and Asylum Seekers at the Edmund Rice Centre at Mirrabooka at the Pre-Intermediate level and now the Intermediate level. Because we were studying Australia this month, I decided to teach them a little about poets and poetry.


I realise some people couldn’t understand this approach, but I went ahead with it anyway.  They loved the poem ‘My Country’ by Dorethea MacKeller. It was such a joy watching them reading the poem with such delight. They were so good that I called in Brother Jim (a Christian Brother who is in charge of Mirrabooka)  to come and listen to them.


I watched them closely and I couldn’t believe how much they were enjoying reading My Country. I think Brother Jim  was impressed too! They even enjoyed the comprehension and grammar activities that went with the poem.


At the end of the class I suggested that they might try to find out about a poet and one of their poems  in their own culture, even if they just got one verse.  I was not sure if any such thing would happen. As I was packing up and ready to leave, Wandee,  from Thailand said ‘ teacher, will you also bring a poem written by a person in your country?’


I said, yes, of course.  So, the following little poem tells you what happened next.




A Wonderful Cultural Experience

By Sr Breda O’Reilly

Tell me a poem from your country

With a famous story to tell.

Make sure you use  colour and beauty and rhythm

So we will understand your country so well.


Well,  what a big surprise I got

When two or three students forgot.

But the biggest surprise was still to come

When the others read their cultural poetry from home.


Wandee from Thailand was a delight

When she read her poem with expression so bright.

Angie from Vietnam couldn’t wait to read

Her poem with much less speed.

Layla from Iraq read so well

With the poem she was eager to tell

Mai Dinh from Vietnam wanted to have a go

Read with a soft voice  that was gentle and low.


Then gentle Van from Vietnam

Missed last week’s lesson

But that did no harm.

He knew his poem off by heart

And no one needed to give him a start.

He said his poem in Vietnamese first.

And then in English with a burst!


Amy from Malaysia came to class late

So she didn’t hear the poetry debate.

But she was not going to get away

Without saying her poetry that day.

What a delight it was to hear

Her reading her poetry softly and clear.


When we were ready to go on with the class

Wandee said to me ‘where is your poem to read to us’,

So I started without a fuss.

My poem was from William Butler Yates

An Irish poet who came from close to my place.

The name of the poem was ‘The Young Man’s Song’

And we read it together feeling we belong.


So the result of this English class

Is a lesson that we can learn from any cultural past.

By sharing the joy of cultural experience

That we can learn from each by listening and hearing.


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