A FORMER AFL umpire who has taken on a role mentoring a South Sudanese refugee says the experience has taught him more than he could have imagined.
Andrew Coates, 46, spent more than 15 years umpiring some of Australia's most elite athletes.
But the East Keilor resident felt there was something missing from his life.
"I read this article in a newspaper about volunteering with refugees.
''I had always wanted to donate money or help in some way, but I wanted to be sure I knew where my money was going and that it would be appreciated," he said.
He decided to become a volunteer mentor with the Helping Hand Project, a community-based organisation set up to provide young refugees with supportive mentors to help them realise their dreams.
What Mr Coates didn't anticipate was how much his mentoree, Garang Anyang, 16, would help him.
Garang lives in StAlbans after fleeing war-torn South Sudan four years ago.
"Garang teaches me about life in Africa while I teach him about our culture," Mr Coates says.
"He's so eager to learn and just soaks everything up. It's really rewarding to see him grow in confidence and maturity as he settles into Australia."
The feeling is mutual for Garang, who says Mr Coates is not only his mentor but a great friend.
"He helps with my studies and teaches me about the cultural differences between Sudan and Australia," he says.
"He encouraged me to take up soccer and took me down to StAlbans Soccer Club to introduce me to the coach and players."
Garang says his favourite thing about his new homeland is its cultural diversity.
"There are so many different cultures and there are a lot of good and helpful people in Australia.
"I love learning about new things, so I'm so happy I can get good education opportunities here."
While the Maribyrnong Secondary College student is unsure of what career path he will take, he says he wants to do something that involves maths.
The Helping Hand Project is looking for new mentors in the west.
An information evening will be held at Flemington's Farnham Street Neighbourhood Learning Centre on August 7 at 7pm.
Details: 8060 3440 or helpinghandproject.org.au.