Marianna Guirguis recognised for breaking language barriers

MARIANNA Guirguis knows only too well what challenges new migrants with limited English face getting through school.

Arriving in Mt Druitt from Egypt when she was 15 years old, she remembers how frustrating it was writing assignments at university two years later while still struggling with the language.

“As a school student, it’s a bit hard to get introduced to a new country and a new language,” Ms Guirguis said.

So it was only natural she would want to share her experiences with other new arrivals, which she has done for two years as a volunteer client services officer at the Mt Druitt Ethnic Communities Agency.

“I thought to volunteer and help the community is much better than staying at home,” she said.

Ms Guirguis has two daughters, Ana-Maria and Marina who are 10 and 11, and has completed a Master of Human Rights postgraduate degree.

It is for her work with the Arabic-speaking community of Mt Druitt for which she is a nominee in the Western Sydney University’s Women of the West Awards community category.

At the MECA, Ms Guirguis, who is fluent in both Arabic and French, helped people fill out forms and make necessary phone calls for simple things, such as confirming doctor’s appointments while she was completing her degree.

Also nominated as a Woman of the West (Community) is Kathryn Temple, of Valley Heights, for helping 2013 Blue Mountains bushfire victims re-establish their gardens. Picture: Peter Kelly

“At MECA, I met people who had only been in the country two days and, because of the language barrier, sometimes they couldn’t even buy the food they wanted,” she said.

Her proudest moment was helping a young man who needed someone to proofread an assignment for the police academy.

“I personally lived this experience so when this guy came to me for help I was so happy about it,” Ms Guirguis said. “I was happier when I heard he got a good mark in his assignment. It made me so cheerful and happy.”

Her clients included people from Arabic-speaking communities including Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Sudan, Palestine, and Kuwait.

“Even though we speak in a different accent we’re able to understand each other,” Ms Guirguis said.

The Women of the West Awards winners will be named on Friday, March 17, at the university’s annual celebration of International Women’s Day at The Waterview in Bicentennial Park.


Marianna Guirguis, pictured outside Mount Druitt Ethnic Communities Agency where she volunteered, is fluent in both Arabic and French. Picture: Peter Kelly


■ Of the 113,213 people born overseas, living in Blacktown in 2011, the greatest number were from the Philippines (6.41 per cent), India (5.02 per cent), New Zealand and the UK (equal 2.5 per cent) and 0.4 per cent each from Iraq and Iran.

■ In Penrith, 37,287 people were born overseas in 2011. The greatest number were from the UK (4.74 per cent), New Zealand (1.8 per cent), Philippines (1.7 per cent) and India (1.3 per cent).

■ According to MECA’s 2016 annual report, 59 per cent of the case load last year was from Iraq, 16 per cent from Syria, 11 per cent from Afghanistan, 8 per cent from Egypt, and 6 per cent from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

■ MECA, which supports migrants, refugees and humanitarian entrants in the suburbs of Mount Druitt and the wider Blacktown local government area, put 141 people through its employment and education pathways program in 2016 and provided 51 information sessions and workshops.

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