Friday’s awful events in Christchurch have left staff and students at Dunedin’s English Language Partners reeling.
The South Dunedin language school has close to 100 former refugees, and many Muslims, among its students, and close connections to the Christchurch Muslim community.
It shares its site with the An-Nur Early Childhood Education and Care Centre, owned by Dr Mohammad Alayan, who was critically injured in the mosque attacks.
Dr Alayan’s son Atta Elayyan, a New Zealand representative futsal player, was killed.
English Language Partners director Paul Naidu, programme co-ordinator Felicity Hattrell and fellow staff have been working to offer support and reassurance to students this week.
On Monday, there were very few learners at a basic English class for former refugees and those who were there were frightened.
“We went to express support and solidarity with them – we all stood together, shed tears together, and hugged each other,” Ms Hattrell said.
“The expression from the learners was one of gratitude and of hope, but also an acknowledgement of how hugely significant this is for them.
“Fear has suddenly engulfed them.”
“However, something that resonated for us was that everyone said this is not New Zealand – it was good to hear them say that.”
It was especially difficult for women, who were fearful to go out in public wearing a hijab, although many were receiving support from the public.
Mr Naidu said many of the former refugees would have witnessed scenes of horror in Syria, but when they came to New Zealand they would have changed their mindsets, feeling they were safe.
“That is why the emotions are all the more profound, because they had a new mindset and that has been shattered,” he said.
English Language Partners was moving to provide practical support, including offering group counselling for classes.
“It is important for people to be able to talk about it, to process it, and then move forward as best they can,” Mr Naidu said.
“I’m proud to be part of an organisation that really cares – we want to do something tangible to help.”
For people in the community who wanted to help, Mr Naidu said small gestures of support were very important as “it shows that we are with them”.
“For me the biggest thing is to express support and solidarity.”