School’s out and I’ve just finished my first year at Milpera State High School for refugee and migrant children. Unlike some of the kids who came to do my creative writing sessions, I won’t be moving on in January when the new school year begins here in Australia. Actually, there’s no way I’m leaving: I’m having too much fun.

Initially this was going to be a year-end round up about how some children wrote their own poems, how some worked on learning rhyming words and how some wrote together with me. Every week at Milpera was different. I never knew what to expect when I arrived with a basket full of word goodies, coloured markers, and the open possibility of a large blank writing pad. Sometimes the same kids would come back week after week and then I wouldn’t see them for a month or two. Sometimes I’d have children who had been to school in their own countries and whose spoken English was good and other times I would have younger children who didn’t seem to have much education and whose English was sparse.

Every week I would bring different things to make English words fun for them. The younger kids loved creating with Playdough and Scrabble-type letters, whereas the older ones enjoyed using their imaginations and pretending they were animals or had super powers. Sometimes I was concerned that I wasn’t doing enough for the children when a session didn’t go smoothly. Sometimes we spent the whole session laughing out loud at ourselves and writing crazy words down. Often I would take the children’s words home and turn them into a poem they could be proud of. Always, I was made to feel welcome by the teachers and staff at Milpera, particularly my coordinator Miss Lyn and the other librarians.

When I started writing this I realized that although my life is richer and I have learned many things (and hopefully given as much to the children) the most important outcome is one I never expected: I have changed. Simply because of the people I’ve met.

Children from distressed countries all over the world have changed me. A new friend, who works with the kids by day and is a poet by night, has changed me. The hope and generosity and acceptance of the staff at Milpera has changed me. They have made me stronger. Happier. More resilient.

These people have brushed briefly against the tiny space in the universe that I have been granted and they have inspired me and somehow encouraged me to become fearless in my art. By doing this, they brought me closer to myself. They’ve re-ignited my love of poetry and unfettered stories, broadened my literary horizons, and helped me to become more open in my approach. They’ve helped me to see that what I want to give may not be the thing they need, that simply by showing up on a regular basis I am giving them something.

So I finish this first year at Milpera by thanking all the children for their magical gift to me. May you be inspired, may you have hope, may you flourish in your new country with the great resilience that you have already demonstrated. And may your new country respect,  encourage and appreciate all the gifts you bring.

The featured image is a photo of a sketch by one of the Milpera students. Thank you M.