My previous article .....illustrated the need for 1:1 lessons, to help refugees pick up the language of their host country quickly enough but also in the specific and individual areas needed. This article presents a workable solution to this problem.
As online teachers and translators, we are in the position of being able to offer lessons and help to any refugee, anywhere anytime. Combined, we have all of the languages needed by refugees, available at the touch of a button.
Through a platform such as Verbling we can connect with a refugee easily. They just need a mobile or a computer. Computers are usually available at the sheltered accommodation and a large number of refugees have mobiles - they are an essential life line, connecting them to one another (family and friends are often separated) and to support services.
A web home page specific to the refugee project could be designed to enable easy access to refugees. This would need all the most significant translations into refugee languages to help them find their way. I have seen sites geared to refugees which had translations available in English, Chinese, French, German, Portuguese but not one common refugee language, not even Arabic.
A secure system that confirms the refugees status would be in place at this point in the process. For now, it´s necessary to focus our efforts on those who are in the integration stages of the asylum process, to ensure the success of their placement.
Once the potential student is through the home page they come to a page where they can place their filters and find a teacher. The filters may be to select the language they wish to study e.g. Spanish, combined with finding a teacher who speaks a common language, for example French - a lot of the African countries have French as a National language. It may also be preferable to offer the gender category to allow students to work with a gender they feel comfortable working with.
Of course the filters may show there is no teacher available and the filters may need to be adjusted to find the best suited teacher available.
Once a teacher and student are connected a trial lesson of 30 minutes would be necessary to give both teacher and student a chance to get to know each other and confirm they wish to continue working together. This point it critical to the success of the project.
An issue with volunteerism is it tends to drift. A trial lesson to ensure the teacher and student connect would provide a strong start. Changing teacher every week is not constructive so a commitment of 10 lessons from both teacher and student needs to be made to ensure neither are wasting their time.
A teacher dedicating their free time to volunteer of course wants to know that time slot will be filled with a willing student, especially since there will no doubt be more students than teachers available in this project and so there will be others who can benefit.
In reality I don't see this being much of an issue, remember, time language learning for refugees is vital, it may be the difference between getting a job or not. When you are 2 months from being kicked out of the red cross safety net onto the street, your lessons are essential.
A review/star system could be useful for showing teacher and student commitment. Students will also want to know their teacher is fully committed and in consideration of the project reputation it is very important we reflect a trustworthy organisation.
In light if this I would like to suggest each teacher takes part in a short cultural awareness course to highlight areas we may want to respect when working with refugees.
We know how this benefits the refugees but how does it benefit the volunteer teacher? Anyone who has participated in volunteer work will hopefully know that the effort we give comes back two fold in the appreciation we receive. Working with refugees, who have left behind everything close to them, we find they are grateful for any unconditional hand, any show of friendship. Their world has been one of distrust for so long they are appreciative when they feel help offered they can be safe with. From this friendships can be built, cultural knowledge and experience shared. For those interested in furthering their humanitarian work it may provide valuable experience that will boost their opportunities.
I would like there to be a more visible system though, a badge on our profiles that indicates the hours we have committed to the project. This would show potential paying students our efforts and it would encourage them to want to support someone who supports others. With a link to a page providing information about the initiative it could really inspire others to want to support us and the cause. It may even encourage other teachers to join us.
Finding more teachers for the project may look like an issue. We know we are many but how to access everyone? Sites like Verbling help us to pool everyone together and to contact them. Another idea I have is to create collaborations with Universities running courses for teachers of foreign languages to provide a mutually beneficial and long lasting cooperation. Finally I would like to encourage the grass roots organisations already working with refugees, to use our platform and online opportunities to help broaden their own projects.
The solutions are out there, this project is already reaching out to refugee Aid Organisations to ask for collaboration, teachers are starting to volunteer. Currently I am looking for Spanish volunteer teachers to begin the first phase trial. Any suggestions, offers, connections, translations available would be gratefully received. Thank you everyone who has shown interest and given support to this project so far :)
Any potential participating teachers are also invited to complete this online survey related to the project. https://www.smartsurvey.co.uk/s/refugeeprojectteachers/