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Learning to help others

Born in Sri Lanka, Bahee’s first language is Tamil. As a keen young student in Sri Lanka, he devoured all educational opportunities and treasured any textbooks, especially those about maths. He achieved an engineering qualification in Sri Lanka but then moved to Melbourne, where he worked in a range of jobs at all hours to support himself and his wife, who was studying full-time.

Coming to Tasmania in 2018, Bahee needed to establish new networks, improve his confidence, and find meaningful and engaging work. On his first day in Devonport, Bahee offered his services as a numeracy volunteer in the adult literacy program at the Library – before he’d even unpacked his belongings into his new home. This personal value of contributing his skill to benefit the community has become an enduring theme throughout Bahee’s three-year (and ongoing) engagement with the Devonport Library.

Bahee completed adult literacy volunteer training at TasTAFE so he had the skills and knowledge to work with low literacy/numeracy adults. He also enrolled in three units of this Certificate IV multimodal course. His driving motivation to complete the course was to give the best of himself to others. He also tutored a young building apprentice in maths providing valuable action learning.

Bahee found part-time technical work with an engineering firm but he had to quickly pivot from electronic to civil engineering spending countless hours learning new systems and local processes. He lived and worked in a remote mining camp where he was exposed to the larrikin elements of a hard-working group of men. Bahee earned the respect of this tough crew, drawing deeply on his good nature and natural ability to laugh at himself. This proved to be a tremendous confidence-building exercise and improved his Australian vocabulary!

Balancing being a casual employee and a volunteer, Bahee found it challenging to cope with competing demands on his time. Writing assignments for his TAFE course proved difficult, and he felt at times he was responding like a robot, unable to firmly articulate his ideas. He wanted to jump in and get on with the joy of sharing his maths knowledge but was encountering barriers.

Bahee built himself a tiny teaching space in a spare bedroom of his house, from where he voluntarily teaches maths online for students worldwide, on a weekly basis. With some additional financial support from his family in Sri Lanka, he wrote and self-published a maths book which they then printed and distributed to impoverished children in villages across Sri Lanka. He is currently working on a second book. Bahee continues to be a valued volunteer at the Devonport Library, supporting adults in building their maths knowledge and supporting other volunteer tutors.

What Bahee really wants an Australian engineering qualification. He has been offered a place at the University of Tasmania as a Bachelor of Engineering Honours student.

“This would provide me with a new passport for life and set me up for professional engineering practice in Australia which is my goal.”

We acknowledge the Traditional Owners of country throughout Australia and recognise their continuing connection to land, waters and community. We pay our respects to them and their cultures; and to elders both past and present.