Wimbledon School of English and Refuaid
Wimbledon School of English is always keen to support charitable initiatives so when we heard about refugees living in the local area that needed English language tuition, we were eager to help. Our first student came to us through an ex-staff member but it wasn't until RefuAid came along that we learned just how easy it was to help students and we have since been able to formalise a scholarship scheme for refugees.
Our Miracle Fruit
Last year one of our ex-teachers opened her home to a 21 year old Syrian refugee named Tamer (pictured above with Lord Alf Dubs) and she approached Wimbledon School of English to see whether the school would help with his education. While his English was already quite good, if he wanted to go onto further education in the UK, he needed the all important IELTS or Cambridge Advanced certificate. It was an initiative we were keen to support at WSE so we gave Tamer a full scholarship for 12 months to help him work towards his language goals. 9 months down the line, he has just passed his CAE exam and he's now preparing for his IELTS. Go Tam!
Having Tamer study at Wimbledon School of English has been an eye-opening and enriching experience for everyone involved. On the one hand, Tamer has been able to experience a British way of life in a way that many refugees would only dream of, but I think it’s us - the staff and students at WSE - that have really learnt from this experience.
Since he arrived almost a year ago, we have watched Tamer successfully quash all the stereotypes of Syrian refugees we’re used to seeing in the media.
We have between 250 and 300 students in school at any one time and it is fair to say that most of our students – who come from relatively privileged backgrounds – had never come in contact with a refugee before. Many of them only had the mass media portrayals to go by, which revolved around the usual narratives of connection to crime, lack of education and a threat to national identity. These stereotypes have been challenged now and hopefully put to rest. With the risk of sounding cliché, it’s moments like these that make me think "if people gave each other a chance, we’d soon see that we’re not so different after all". As language schools, we are doing this every day. We’re bringing people together from all corners of the world and our schools become spaces for exchange, understanding and collaboration.
After an overwhelmingly positive experience with Tamer, we were keen to offer scholarships to more refugees in need of English language training but we didn’t know how to formalise things. This is where RefuAid comes in. They are a UK-based charity that provides development assistance for both refugee and local populations and Wimbledon School of English was their first partner for their “Language: A Gateway” programme. Co-founders Tamsyn and Anna live nearby and by pure coincidence they came and knocked on our door just as we were looking to formalise a scholarship scheme for refugees.
At the moment we have 3 students with us via RefuAid's Language: A Gateway Programme; Niloofar from Iran, Abdulkarimand and Nader, both from Syria. They have all been given Academic Year Scholarships at WSE and our Director of Studies worked with each of them individually to create a long term study plan based on their hopes for the future. They are all progressing well and their enthusiasm about the future is infectious.
A home away from home
Life outside of school is just as important and thanks to the incredible work of Refugees at Home, our students are all living with locals. Refugees at Home is a UK based charity aiming to connect those with a spare room in their home with asylum seekers and refugees in need of accommodation. If you're reading this and would like to get involved either as a language school or a host, the teams at RefuAid and Refugees at Home would love to hear from you: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com and http://www.refugeesathome.org/enquiries/index.html
Meet our crew!
Abdulkarim (pictured below in the garden)
Country of Origin: Syria (Kurdish)
Arrival in the UK: June 2016
Course: General English at intermediate level, moving onto IELTS preparation soon
What will you do after WSE: I'm a neurosurgeon and a spine doctor and I hope to continue working as a doctor. I'm going to study hard to get a 7.5 in my IELTS exam and then I can register with the General Medical Council.
Lives: Hinchley Wood, Surrey
Favourite thing about UK: The people are lovely!
Country of Origin: Iran
Arrived in the UK: February 2016
Current course: I'm studying General English at advanced level. I did my FCE exam last month and the next step is an IELTS preparation course.
What will you do after WSE: I'm going to university to study Business and Management. I have applied to 5 universities and am hoping to go to Middlesex.
Lives: Epsom, Surrey. I live with Nina, the founder of Refugees at Home
Favourite thing about UK: I felt alive again when I came to the UK. It gave me a feeling of hope and a new start in life. This experience has taught me a lot about myself, it's taught me that I am a positive person and I can overcome difficulties.
Nader (pictured below in the library)
Country of Origin: Syria
Arrived in the UK: October 2015
Current course: IELTS
What will you do after WSE: I'm planning to go to university, starting with a foundation year in engineering
Lives: Hampton Court, Surrey
Favourite thing about UK: I love the freedom I have in this country and the respect people have for each other.
Country of Origin: Syria
Arrived in the UK: April 2016
Current course: IELTS at the moment but I have already got my FCE and CAE since joining WSE.
What will you do after WSE: I'm planning to go to university but that all depends on whether I am granted asylum. Fingers crossed! My passion is acting but I don't feel like I can study that at university for 4 years without the guarantee of a job at the end. I have my family back in Syria and I want to support them so the plan is to study Engineering at Univeristy and get a good job.
"It's really hard when your heart tells you to do one thing and your head tells you to do something else." - Tamer
Favourite thing about UK: The people. From the moment I arrived, British people have helped me. When I left Syria, I imagined I would be sad and alone in the UK but I have never felt that. I have been given some incredible opportunities and met great people. I have been campaigning with Labour politican Lord Alf Dubs, a child refugee himself, to try and secure a better future for child refugees.
I urge everyone reading this to get involved however you can. Whether it's a scholarship through RefuAid, a room through Refugees at Home, or finding your own way of doing something good.
A note from Anna and Tamsyn at RefuAid:
RefuAid is an organisation that supports refugees in accessing education, employment, healthcare and housing opportunities. Our footprint is global but our focus is local; we work with local partners to source the best possible solutions for newly-arrived refugees and the community.
Language is one of the biggest barriers for refugees in the UK in accessing education and employment and it limits integration. In order to address this need, RefuAid have been working with language schools throughout the UK to gain donations of FCE and IELTS tuition places (an average of 4 per school). RefuAid then supports these students with a travel bursary, the cost of exam fees and needed materials.
The project has been a huge success, many of our students have now received university offers and others are looking to go back to work in their previous careers in the UK. The need for English language support in refugee communities in the UK is huge and we are appealing for English Language providers to come forward with in-kind tuition spaces if at all possible. We can promise you, you won’t regret it, we have found our refugee students bring to their schools amazing qualities and a thirst for learning. If you have spaces on IELTS courses that you are able to donate please email firstname.lastname@example.org.