Education – a life-line for migrants in rebuilding

20-May-2015

Originally from Ghana in West Africa, Dr Susana Akua Saffu has completed a PhD through CDU

Originally from Ghana in West Africa, Dr Susana Akua Saffu has completed a PhD through CDU


Stories of empowerment and survival have emerged through research that aims to address Australians’ perceptions of African immigrants and shed light on the value of education as the key to integration.

Originally from Ghana in West Africa, Dr Susana Akua Saffu has completed a PhD through Charles Darwin University, and will receive the award at tomorrow’s graduation ceremony in Darwin.

Her PhD thesis, entitled “Learning as transformation and empowerment: The case of African-Australian women in the Northern Territory of Australia”, explored the role and impact of adult education in the settlement and integration process of African-Australian women in the Northern Territory.

Dr Saffu interviewed 24 African-Australian women participants who shared their stories of migrating to the NT. She found that education was a key adaptive strategy for social and economic integration as well as a means of survival and a key asset in rebuilding their lives.

“I wanted to help try to dispel the myth that immigrants, especially women and children, were not contributing to the community,” Dr Saffu said. “Instead I wanted to talk about the contribution these women were making and what was helping them adapt and make these contributions.”

She said that learning through formal and in-formal means was a critical phase in reconstructing their identities and rebuilding their lives.

“There are many things you cannot find in a book,” she said. “The slang, or even local names for fruits and vegetables.

“Participation in learning activities empowered them to engage productively in the social, cultural, economic and political activities of their new society, whether attending formal language classes, volunteering, or even going to a local market to buy produce.”

She said that in many ways the stories she transcribed as part of her research mirrored her own experience of motherhood, paid work, part-time studies and volunteer work in a different socio-cultural context in Australia.

“For the participants, education was an adaptive strategy for social and economic integration as well as a means of survival, a critical phase in reconstructing their identities and rebuilding their lives.”

Dr Saffu said she hoped her research would help inform opportunities and educational pathways offered to other migrant and refugee groups in Australia and elsewhere.

“It does not matter what your race, gender or background, with support, access and encouragement everyone can make a conscious effort to learn,” she said.

An advocate for refugees and migrants, Dr Saffu has worked in the education sector for more than 30 years, with the past 20 years in the Northern Territory. She is a lecturer at the Australian Centre for Indigenous Knowledges and Education, a joint initiative of CDU and the Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education.

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