Our partner Baobab Experience in Italy is teaching refugees English to give them much needed independence

We find out from their volunteer English teacher, Erika Santalucia’s how funding such a project can really make a difference.

“Migrants arriving in Rome from several African States are almost always in transit. They rarely decide to stay in our country, that’s why we volunteers figured out that, for our friends, an English Course would have been more helpful than an Italian one.

So given that here in Rome I’m an English teacher for a secondary school, since December 2016, I have started to give them a two hours grammar and speech lesson on Thursdays, during the afternoon (from 3 p. m. to 5 p.m). In this adventure I’m not alone, because I can count on the help of a boy-scout, Lorenzo, who is really talented in drawing, which is a very important skill to teach a foreign language, especially to those people speaking just Arab or Tigrigna.

Sometimes even a picture doesn’t help much, and we find ourselves forced to play as caricaturist actors, exaggerating facial expressions or movements to reach the goal of let them understand what we mean.

The very first day we started with an Entry Test, just to better understand the level of the English class, and it turned out to be a rather naïf move. In fact, this class has a peculiarity. Except for some exceptions, given the nature of those migrants, every times there are different students.

At the beginning this was really strange to cope with, but now we manage the thing trying to always give them material (in terms of vocabulary and grammar rules) which can help them to survive in a European country, no matter which.

We teach them how to ask for help or information or accommodation and when possible we try to follow them also once arrived in their further destinations. As the class changes we try to adjust the lesson in order to be more appealing for the specific audience.

With Italian or Western Students, it’s usually possible to use comparisons with movies or to make examples with Literature characters or song lyrics, which is an impossibility in this case, because often most of them has never been to the cinema in their whole lives or maybe they simply don’t know the same songs or novels.

Once, for instance, we read an extract from the script of Twilight to explain the use of future tenses and we had hard times to introduce part of the audience to the concept of Vampire because it was not on their imaginary.

Teaching migrants coming from very different countries with different levels of comprehension or degree of culture can be complicated, but the real motive to do this kind of course is not just strictly linked to the Learning area.

As volunteers doing that for free and for humanitarian reasons, our aim is to let them feel, for at least two hours in their week, just students and not refugees. And when they smile at us full of gratitude or when they simply seem to feel more confortable and start to ask questions on certain topics forgetting their problems, we know our job with them is done.”

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