Award winner uses soccer to break barriers 

KENYAN-born Zac Ekandi’s efforts to help other international students in Newcastle has earned him the Hunter TAFE Director-General’s Award for Excellent Service to Public Education.

Mr Ekandi left Kenya and started a Bachelor of Information Technology degree at the University of Newcastle in 2001. Friends helped him find  places to live and shop and gave him advice on how to keep up with his fast-talking lecturers.

‘‘I spoke English, but thought: ‘imagine if you couldn’t speak English and you wanted to do all of those everyday things – what a challenge that would be’.’’

Mr Ekandi was working for Northern Settlement Services when he met Hunter Institute of TAFE’s Multicultural Education Unit co-ordinator, who told him the organisation had received an influx of refugee students and required a bilingual student support officer.

Mr Ekandi took the job and in 2009 started a multicultural soccer team, which was sponsored by the Hunter Institute Student Association and still exists today.

About 60per cent of the players are from African backgrounds. 

‘‘It not only breaks through social barriers, it’s a way to be involved in productive activities like exercise,’’ he said.

‘‘It’s all about integration, harmony and co-existence.’’

Mr Ekandi soon progressed to co-ordinator of the unit, a role that has earned him the Hunter TAFE Director-General’s Award.

He oversees all of the campuses from Wyong to Scone. At Newcastle TAFE alone, 14.8per cent of the student population are from non-English speaking backgrounds.

He has introduced a cultural connections program, which involved activities such as storytelling and dance.

‘‘We really want students to be able to mix and learn more about each other,’’ he said. 

‘‘It’s been quite fulfilling, being able to make a real difference in a big way.’’

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