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Long-running Melbourne homework club faces ‘devastating’ closure as funding dries up

Sunday October 23, 2022
By Carolyn Webb

University student Miski Awad with volunteer tutor Anne Height at Fitzroy Youth Homework Club.CREDIT:SIMON SCHLUTER

Growing up in an inner-city apartment with her parents and four younger siblings, it was not easy for Miski Awad to study at home.

The daughter of hard-working Somali immigrants who were not always able to help her with schoolwork, Awad began to thrive after joining the Fitzroy Youth Homework Club.

She has attended the free after-school study club, held at Fitzroy Library, since year 7.

The 19-year-old said one-on-one assistance from volunteer tutors was a factor in her getting the marks needed to start a nursing degree at RMIT this year. She now dreams of being a paediatrician.

But Awad was upset to hear that the 30-year-old homework club, which tutors about 170 students between year 7 and university level per year, might be folding.

Mubarek Imam, executive director of the Young Assets Foundation that runs the club in partnership with Fitzroy Library, said if funding for the program, which costs $94,000 a year to operate, is not found for the coming year, it will be unable to continue.

Imam said the Brotherhood of St Laurence ran the club from 1990 to 2020. Since 2020, the Young Assets Foundation has won short-term grants to continue it. A two-year $80,000 grant from the Scanlon Foundation expired last week, so the club has launched a fundraising campaign.

Imam is one of the club’s three paid part-time staff. The program has more than 60 volunteer tutors, including retired teachers.

The Fitzroy Library lets the club use a meeting room for free and lends resources such as laptops.

Imam said about 95 per cent of the club’s students are from non-English-speaking backgrounds and live in public housing.

“Most of their parents are not in a position to help them with their studies. Most came here as refugees and asylum seekers, so education is a challenge,” he said. “But also, time is an issue. Their parents need to work so don’t have the time to help. And English being a second language is an issue.”

Yarra City Council provided $10,000 to the Young Assets Foundation in 2021 to help run the homework club.

Fitzroy Youth Homework Club executive director Mubarek Imam.

Yarra mayor Sophie Wade said: “Yarra City Council is a strong supporter of the homework club and recognises the significant benefits the club provides to young people from migrant and refugee backgrounds.”

Imam, 30, who moved from Eritrea to Australia six years ago, attended a free homework club run by RMIT volunteers during years 11 and 12, and said it helped him overcome culture shock, make friends and work out what he wanted to do in future. He was once homeless and the club helped him access housing services.

He is now studying for diplomas in business, leadership, and management and community services.

Of the Fitzroy Youth Homework Club’s possible closure, he said: “It’s going to be devastating. I’ve spent sweat and blood for the last two years to keep this running for the students, so it would feel disappointing. It’s critical for the growth of these young people, especially for their aspirations.”

Awad said it was important that the club continued. For her, living with six relatives in an apartment, “it is easier to come here to a quiet space”.

“I’ve made a lot of connections here,” she said. “I feel like they did fully support me. And now I’m doing an undergraduate degree, it is sad that I may not be able to receive the help that I do now.”

If she hadn’t had the club to go to, “I feel like it would have been really hard to finish school. Now that I’m doing a university degree, I need the homework club more than ever.”


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