I first learned of the St Aloysius Church’s outreach to refugees and asylum seekers from a parish bulletin. There was an appeal for more volunteers to assist with the English classes for refugees and asylum seekers which had begun in March 2016. I felt I would like to do something and so it was that one morning, I found myself visiting the Ogilvie Centre, just to find out more.
I did not know what to expect but when I went into the hall I found several groups enthusiastically engaged in ‘learning English’. There was then, and continues to be now, great energy, lots of laughter and a cheerfulness that never ceases to amaze me.
I knew immediately that I wanted to be involved, and the following week began what has been for me a very rewarding and engaging experience of trying to accompany, in a practical way, people who find themselves in a new country facing all that comes with being a refugee or asylum seeker – and I have become much more aware of what these challenges are.
A number of our students have had no formal education prior to coming to our ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) classes. Others have very little or even absolutely no English and there are yet others who are highly educated, may already speak English but need to practise the spoken word. At first, the Ogilvie Centre may be the only place where our students have the chance to really hear and then begin to speak English. We hope that what happens in the classes helps to make their new lives a bit easier.
And for the teachers, it’s interesting to learn first hand something of the many countries, customs and cultures from which our students have come. I have learned a few words of Tigrinya and Arabic. My attempts to say such words are always appreciated and any laughter is always kind!
One of the lovely things that happens is that some students who have moved on to college still like to visit us occasionally. This is also very encouraging for new students to see. I think my fellow volunteers would all say that the most important thing we can do is to try to ensure that we extend a warm welcome. We want everyone to feel that here is a place where they are truly welcomed, can enjoy a tea or coffee and a chat with others in their own language, and begin to get to grips with a new language and unravel the mysteries of life in Glasgow.
Some students, particularly the young, are very keen to acquire, and to try out, a bit of Glaswegian. Occasionally advice is sometimes required as to why “How’s it goin’, big man?” is perhaps not the best greeting in a formal situation!
Teaching English is the main but not the only way our team of volunteers try to help. The welcome is the foundation on which all we try to do is built.