Perennial volunteer Hank Koster was celebrated at a gala dinner at the Hyatt Regency on 11 May where he received a Lifetime Contribution to Volunteering Award from Volunteering WA.
If one man could epitomise the spirit of volunteering, you would be hard pressed to find a better candidate than Hank Koster.
‘Mr Hank’ as he is known to the hundreds of people he has helped over the years, has dedicated much of his life, a remarkable 54 years all up, to helping others.
Whether it be a tutor for the Read Write Now (RWN) program, a carer at the Albany Hospice, visiting inmates at the Albany maximum security prison or providing foster care, Hank humbly goes above and beyond the call of duty.
Hank arrived in Albany from Holland as a 23 year old with no English and a speech impediment. This experience formed the foundation for a lifetime of volunteering and a commitment to make a difference to the lives of people in need.
To complement Hank’s award, Greg Elliot received the Western Australian Volunteer Award for Ethnic Communities for his work with Centacare and RWN, helping people from diverse backgrounds learn, work and prosper in the community.
A RWN volunteer since 2001, most of Greg’s students are refugees who face a myriad of barriers to learn and succeed. Greg teaches his students literacy and numeracy and is directly involved in changing their lives for the better.
Volunteering WA aims to build stronger communities by connecting volunteers to community organisations. It provides a range of resources, services and support so West Australians better understand the nature and scope of volunteering.
North Metro TAFE has proudly hosted the RWN volunteer program since 2006. The program caters to those who fell through the cracks of the school system and need help with literacy and numeracy, as well as refugees and North Metro TAFE students.
Many of Central’s lecturers bring to the classroom broad and deep skill sets and experience from several industries. This is perfectly illustrated by ESL lecturer Anne Hairsine, whose life has taken her from cruise liners, to Dampier, to the UK, to Tasmania and even a spell in the heart of Papua New Guinea. She’s had a theatre named after her and even finds time to work as a marriage celebrant. I recently had time to catch up with Anne and delve into her rich and varied CV and find out a bit about what she has learned over the years about teaching…
What are you currently teaching at Central?
Mainly oral communication. I just love it because you are able to make a difference to migrants making a new start, in a new country. I have nothing but admiration for them. Communication, of course is not just about the words – we can tell a story just by using our face and bodies. But hopefully what we teach in this course can give them the confidence to tackle anything.
Do your students come from all over the world?
Absolutely. From everywhere. We are currently getting a lot from Europe, especially the countries currently facing financial issues such as Spain, Italy, Greece, Romania. A lot of them are highly professional, physios, doctors, psychiatrists and so on and are coming over here for the sake of their families. They have made these big sacrifices because they feel their children will have better opportunities here.
Do specific nationalities tend to struggle with specific sounds?
Yes. Whenever anyone tackles a new language, there are certain sounds in the new language that are not present in their first language. “Th” and “the” as in “breath” and “them” are the most problematic, but there are many others. Most languages have between 8 and 10 vowels and diphthongs and English has 22! Of course many people think if you can speak English you can teach pronunciation but it is like learning any new skill, you need to learn, understand and practice new techniques. I always use the example of learning to play tennis. You can’t just pick up a racket and play like Roger Federer.
Do you have fun exercises to tackle issues?
We certainly do. To make the (to the students) new sounds of /f/ and /v/ I say, “Bite your bottom lip, show me your teeth, make like a rabbit, and now blow… f f f .” A whole class imitating a rabbit is quite a sight and we all look so ridiculous we can’t help but fall about laughing. But once they practice at home and suddenly master the mechanics of producing the sound, it’s great. I think one of the secrets of why this course is working, is we have such good fun and laugh a lot. Who cares if we look silly? We are helping each other to communicate and learn the mechanics of producing understandable speech.
How long are they with you?
The courses all vary in length. We are starting a new Certificate IV course in 2016 – Pronunciation for Further Studies. We are currently designing the course and assessments and are very excited about that.
It sounds like if you have introverted people coming from a new country, the fact that you involve the whole group in collective fun exercises enables the more shy people to give it a go and have fun and relax.
Yes there are certain cultures that are traditionally a little more reserved. They start off seeing me as the guru at the front, while they are the student, but that dynamic soon changes and they realise it is all about collaboration and teamwork.
I also take them out to special events, preferably free ones, outside of class time. For several years WAAPA has put on a Shakespearean play in the courtyard of the State Theatre. I make sure they are familiar with the story before our visit.
The first year I did this, an Afghani student took several of his mates, and other students took their families to other sessions. I was thrilled because they took the initiative and shared their experience and knowledge. There are often events over at the State Library, the Art Gallery and the Museum and so the students become familiar with opportunities within the community.
So you enjoy coming here?
I certainly do. Friends often ask: “When are you are going to retire?” My standard reply is: “The day I wake up and feel I can’t be bothered to get out of bed!” So far, I always wake up and think “Oh, who have I got the pleasure of working with today?” It’s delightful. Makes living worthwhile. To give you one example, one Japanese girl is now working as a volunteer at Princess Margaret Hospital. She’s helping the teachers and consolidates the work with the sick kids after the teacher has left. In a recent feedback survey, she said how much the course has helped her because she now knows she can speak well and has the confidence to speak to the parents. It’s these stories that are so rewarding. Ones that prove that we are making a difference not just to the students, but also to our community
Was it a natural extension for you to move into this field from teaching drama for years with all the speech and presentation involved in the arts?
Not really. I blame my daughter Kate. I thought she was going to be based in Italy for some time and I thought, “OK, the dollar is at rock bottom. If I go over to visit, I may have to earn a living.” So I went and studied for the appropriate qualifications to teach English as a second language. Then I was given a month’s relief at Central and my colleagues saw that I really taught and didn’t just babysit the classes. So here I am, many years later.
I think learning both Italian and German late in life, has helped me become a better ESL teacher as I have experienced first hand all the problems of learning a new language and so can relate to my students’ difficulties and frustrations. I also learnt a lot about what worked and what didn’t, by attending schools in both Italy and Germany and like a magpie, filched all the good ideas.
What do you think about the saying that English is the easiest language to learn but the hardest to use properly?
I have prepared a half hour lesson where I explain to the students how, through repeated invasions of England over the centuries, English has absorbed the influences of many other languages. This has resulted in a totally frustrating, but eventually such a beautiful language.
Lots of students in their feedback say how they love the poetry we do – the flow of it and the imagery. Yes, you begin by teaching the students the mechanics of pronouncing sounds, but then you teach them how to create a smooth and lyrical soundscape.
We also have a good laugh at the broad Australian accent. Australians really are the laziest speakers in the world. We don’t open our mouths. I will often read with an Australian accent so they can recognise it and translate it. This is important for when they eventually go into the workforce.
I am a great advocate of vocal warm ups. Just as you need to warm up your body before any physical exercise, it is imperative to warm up your vocal and facial muscles, especially if you are going for an interview, or giving a talk. The warm up acts as a focus and you can practise all the problem areas.
What was your first overseas excursion?
I was head hunted for a tutoring job in San Remo, in Italy. Then I got a job on a ship as a Children’s’ Hostess which is where I met my husband. Sometimes we had up to 200 children in our care. It was on a ‘round the world’ ship taking migrants out to Australia and New Zealand. Having trained as a Physical Education teacher I was very efficient in organising swimming lessons and running events such as sporting carnivals and discos. And of course the drama interest was already there and a Christmas nativity and concert was such a hit, it became a weekly event.
How does Dampier fit in to all of this narrative?
My husband was a ship’s pilot with Hamersley Iron. We went to Dampier in the early days. That was a very different experience – primitive, no shops, everything had to be sent up from Perth by ships, no spare water. But that’s another story!
With a group of friends, we began the Dampier and District Repertory. One of our first projects was to organise an Old time Music Hall called ‘Fenacl Fanny’ (Fe –iron and nacl –salt.) It was a riotous success. Over the years, people camped overnight to get tickets for it. Our audiences varied, but often consisted of predominantly single men with no background in theatre-going, so the show had to be short ,sharp and good quality to keep their attention. Oh what a great training ground those conditions were! I guess that’s where I really began honing my theatre skills.
I believe you met the famous Red Dog.
Absolutely. He came to Fenacl and walked up on stage, sat down, looked out at the audience for a while, enjoyed a few pats and then left. He came to our home on several occasions. The procedure was, you opened the door, he came in, you fed him, he slept with our dog in the laundry, and in the morning you would open the door and off he would go. He just belonged to everyone.
He used to catch the bus from Dampier to Karratha and I used to pass him waiting on the side of the road on my way to school. One day, he missed the bus and so I stopped, opened the door and in he climbed and got out in Karratha. He was smart and just seemed to know the bus timetables. His original master was a bus driver. He had his own special seat on the bus. He could appear anywhere, and he’d go off to places like Tom Price. I do think however the legend that once he hitched a ride to Japan by ship is a little far fetched!
What do you think makes a good teacher?
I am going to use the term love. You have to love what you are doing. You have to love the students and you have to encourage them and rejoice in their achievements. I don’t think that’s putting it too strongly. Also, you have to be realistic and recognise every student has different strengths and weaknesses. An example that just came to me was when I once had twins in my class. One of them came to me and said, “It’s not fair Mrs H, I studied so hard for the exam and only got 62% and my sister didn’t study at all and she got 88%!”
So I said, “Have you watched her dance lately?” This confused her. “What do you mean?” she asked.
“Dancing”, I said.
“You are such a beautiful dancer and you are always put right in the front so the others can watch you and keep in step at the front of the line. Where does your sister always get put when there’s dancing? Behind the potted plant, where you just see her hands waving.”
She looked at me and I then explained further:
“Look we all have gifts and yes it may not be fair how she breezed the exam, but you have other talents.”
I think that is crucial – to find and concentrate on students’ strengths and be realistic. You also have to keep an open mind and never become complacent. Complacency stifles creative thinking and prevents implementing new ideas.
You’re brimming with enthusiasm and I know you love what you do, but have you gathered any techniques to stay positive? Because I think to a certain extent, a person is what they think about.
When people ask “How are you?” I reply, “Oh marvellous!” because life is such a precious gift. I don’t know whether you’re aware that five years ago almost to the day, I was diagnosed with bowel cancer. At one stage, the doctors weren’t sure whether it had spread to my liver, because spots were found on it. I had thirty six hours to wait for the results. During this time, I had the opportunity to reflect on my life and realise how fortunate I had been. If the prognosis was not good, my only regret was not being there to see my grandchildren grow up and I was a bit cranky about that. Fortunately for me the spots were left over from a bout of hepatitis. I am always glad I had that experience where you actually get to reflect in a space where you’re not sure if it’s an end, or a beginning.
Having worked at sea and in remote country towns, it seems like you’ve always forged your own path. Did you have any mentors?
My Mother and Father were inspirational role models for me and I grew up within a loving extended family. We were taught that “Anything is possible… but you have to work at it. Don’t expect anything to be handed to you on a platter.” Plus, “Always be fair, honest, helpful and respectful of others.”
What about when you were teaching drama? Did you learn through the productions or through mentors?
I’d say a bit of both. Trial and error is a great way of learning but I was always smart enough to realise when I needed expert help. That’s another thing I learned from my parents. If you don’t know, just admit it and find someone who does. Don’t try to bluff your way through.
Was that your favourite job, working at Perth College?
It was certainly an incredibly exciting and challenging 22 years and together we, the school community achieved so much. We built a theatre and for the opening, the entire school was involved, over 1000 people. In 2002 when the school turned 100, I wrote the history of the school, set against the backdrop of 100 years of Western Australian, Australian and world history and once again the whole school community, – students, friends, parents and Old Girls –were involved in the production. I have been blessed with so many special friends from that period of my life.
So you’re good at living in the present then?
Yeah I think I am. The past is wonderful because you have fabulously happy memories of working with amazing people. And of course the best bit is you look back and think, “Wow, I made a difference to all these people.” But I do live in the present. Take for example what I do now. We have just had the Symposium and I helped a group of students to introduce and thank the workshop presenters. They were all very nervous and anxious to do well. On the day, as I watched them being such gracious ambassadors for Central, my heart was just bursting with happiness for them. It gave me just as much satisfaction as some of the more spectacular things I’ve done. For them to have the confidence to speak in front of a large group of teachers in their second language was very brave. So yes, I guess I live in the moment and just love every day.
Central’s Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP) played host to Her Excellency the Honourable Kerry Sanderson AO, Governor of Western Australia at a recent visit to the Mirrabooka campus.
The City of Stirling were coordinating a community services tour for the Governor to provide an overview of the City’s efforts in relation to multicultural communities.
The Governor attended a couple of Central AMEP classes and visited the onsite crèche. . Richard Flack, Manager, AMEP gave an overview of the program. Teachers’ Veronica Ribbons and Simmone Moscufo then ran an interactive activity with the Certificate II and III English level students. Governor Sanderson also participated in the activity.
Students then joined in a multicultural morning tea with guests including the City of Stirling Mayor, CEO and senior City staff who accompanied the Governor.
Governor Sanderson commented on what a fantastic opportunity it was for students to learn English and on the wonderful resources and facilities that were on offer.
Read Write Now Tutor Hank Koster has won a Pride of Australia medal for his unwavering commitment to helping others.
Central Institute of Technology has been proud to host the Read Write Now volunteer tutor program since 2006. Volunteer tutors assist adults who have fallen through the cracks in the school system and have inadequate literacy skills for everyday life.
The tutors are also available to Central students for help with the literacy aspect of their course. The four staff members operate out of Central’s Aberdeen Street campus offices where they can be in contact with the nearly 700 volunteer tutors.
Managing Director Neil Fernandes said “Central has a long history of contributing to the development of the local community and supporting Read Write Now is a valuable contribution to the much wider community of WA as the Program operates in 20 regions around the state.”
In 2000, Hank Koster became a volunteer tutor with the Albany Read Write Now group. Hank’s introduction to the group was when he arrived on a cold frosty morning with his arms full of hot-baked cakes and biscuits he’d made at 5am so that everyone would have a good morning tea. It is typical of his generous spirit.
Hank’s literacy tutoring has ranged from homeless youth to assisting apprentices such as a young man from Denmark. The latter was being sent hundreds of kilometres out to farms and then couldn’t read the manuals, or number the parts on machinery to be repaired. Hank offered to help with his literacy problem and so every Wednesday night the young man drove 80 kms to Hank’s house after work, stayed for a shower and dinner before beginning a two hour literacy session. After 18 months, he passed his apprenticeship and told everyone what made working with Hank different was that “Hank was somebody who cares.”
When a group of over 80 Afghan refugees were relocated to Albany on Temporary Protection Visas they needed jobs and accommodation. They spoke no English and had no income. Many were not literate in their own language and most had suffered trauma at the hands of the Taliban. Their situation made Hank recall his experience of arriving in Albany from Holland as a 23 year old, with no English.
When Hank joined RWN as a volunteer tutor, his work with the Afghan refugees became akin to a full-time job. He convinced rental agents to lease properties to them and assisted them with finding work at the local abattoir.
For three years he tutored five students a week in reading and writing. While doing this he also opened his home as a makeshift ‘drop in’ centre to more than half of the 80 to assist with immigration paperwork and made numerous trips to Perth to attend meetings with lawyers and assist with immigration interviews. He helped them learn to drive and understand the literacy aspect of the test and learn about safety requirements at work. He gained their trust and became their friend and became widely known as “Mr Hank”.
After the Afghans received their permanent residency status many moved to Perth to pursue work in the building industry and in late 2006 Hank realised that if he wanted to continue helping his friends, he too needed to move to Perth. Hank contacted the head office of RWN located within Central to continue his volunteering efforts.
Since then, he has helped nearly 250 Afghan men to read, understand and qualify for their Occupational Safety and Health White Card. The Housing Industry Association also agreed to Hank’s request to be able to attend each training session.
He has also tutored Afghan teenagers who arrived from refugee camps to be re-united with family. He helped bring their language and literacy up-to-speed to enable them to do well in school. Members of the Afghan community have gone on to establish their own businesses and children have gone to university – all thanks to Hank’s support in their early days.
He is a Read Write Now tutor, mentor, and friend. While Hank now admits he has “slowed down” there are still Afghan families he has regular contact with. He is proud of them all. Even now, Hank will answer the call to help with paperwork, “but not after 9.30pm!”
Hank’s volunteering efforts also include 15 years as a carer at the Albany Hospice supporting patients and their families at a most difficult time in life. He completed a Professional Counsellor’s course knowing this would enable him to be of greater service to others.
Somehow he found time to be a regular visitor at Albany maximum security prison giving a compassionate ear and smiling face to prisoners who had no visitors. Today, he still makes the long drive to Albany to visit two inmates serving life-sentences so they know they are not forgotten. At times the prison has requested Hank’s help in calming the men when all else has failed. He judges no-one and accepts everyone.
He has provided a home and education and foster care for a 13 year old he found scavenging out of a rubbish bin. This child was out of control, but settled with Hank,completed school and today leads a stable life. Hank’s voluntary work at the local Op Shop is fortuitous as he can open the door at any hour to select clean clothes for the homeless people who come his way. Offering a hot meal, shower and clean clothes, Hank has been known to then locate their family, buy a bus ticket and enable the person to get off the streets and return to the care of loved ones.
This is only a summary of the many people Hank has tutored and helped in an awe inspiring life of volunteering and service. Read Write Now is indeed honoured that he chose to be part of our organisation and we are humbled to have had the opportunity to nominate him for the Pride of Australia ‘Fair Go’ Medal, an honour he so richly deserves.
Central officially launched its new training partnership with Australian global education leader Navitas last week, with the latter securing a contract earlier this year to provide English language courses for some of Central’s international students.
Navitas was selected to begin providing English Language Intensive Courses for Overseas Students (ELICOS) on behalf of Central at its Northbridge campus.
Navitas has a strong business relationship with Central and already provides employment pathway, workforce training and development and Adult Migrant Education Programs.
Central has been delivering ELICOS programs since the mid-1990s and currently delivers courses to between 160 and 250 students a week.
Ms Sally Waite, Executive General Manager, Careers & Learning Skills said the new partnership with Central was a win-win for the education sector in WA.
“At present, around 50 per cent of Central’s ELICOS students continue their studies either with Central or with other state training providers in WA, so we hope that we can bring Navitas’ scale and long experience to the partnership and help to grow the international student market here in Perth”, said Ms Waite.
Central MD Neil Fernandes reinforced the benefits of this new partnership to both organisations.
“I remember Navitas Managing Director Rod Jones presenting at a higher education forum a few years ago. Rod explained what NAVITAS stood for, and how the values they brought to any partnership included mutual benefit.
This idea resonated with us here at Central and the concept of mutual benefit is profoundly evident in the relationship we’ve forged though this program and in the other areas where we work closely together”, said Neil.