Sunshine kinder honoured for helping “oppressed” local families

Educational leader Linda Hyett and some of her young charges.

A Sunshine East Kindergarten program helping young Burmese refugees is in the running for a state government education award.

The kinder is a finalist at the 11th annual Victorian Early Years Awards in the ‘improving access and participation in early learning’ category.

The kinder’s educational leader Linda Hyett said the centre worked with the Victorian Foundation for Survivors of Torture to help Chin refugees, people from an ethnic minority in Burma, who had endured “terrible circumstances” back home.

“Many have been living in refugee camps for more than a decade,” Mrs Hyett said.

“We were able to learn so much about the Chin community and identified barriers which discouraged Chin families from accessing early childhood services [in Australia].”

A kinder play day hosted by Sunshine East was an important first step of the project, which is also backed by the education department and Sunshine Harvester Primary School.

The project has transformed the kinder, with signs, notes and written materials translated for the children, while food and clothing are also distributed to families when needed.

Mrs Hyett said the project had “really opened my eyes”.

“[It] changed my practice in so many ways,” she said.

“We have employed a Chin educator who is a wonderful asset … interpreters are used regularly for families, ensuring good avenues of communication.

“Chin children in the Sunshine area are now highly prepared for starting school and the frequency of Chin children repeating prep is now minimal compared with 2011.”

Winners of the early years awards will be announced on October 18.