Talk with me – Voluntary language mentors for refugees
Duration: 1.3.2016 – 28.2.2018
Funding: Erasmus+ Strategic partnerships for youth, KA2 – Cooperation for Innovation and the Exchange of Good Practices
Coordinator: Gemeinsam leben & lernen in Europa
Partner organisations: Tulip Foundation (Bulgaria), Cluj-Napoca Volunteer Centre (Romania)
Due to the international crisis and wars, more and more refugees are seeking asylum in Europe. Lots of refugees, especially families from Syria and a lot of unaccompanied minors, are trying to get into Europe from the Western Balkans. So suddenly border countries like Bulgaria and Romania – being among the poorest countries within the EU – have to deal with a rising number of refugees in general, but also with unaccompanied minors and school-aged children. The figures for these atypical host countries are still lower than the EU’s most popular destinations, including Sweden, France, and Germany, but both countries are ill prepared for the impact of suddenly becoming a host country for refugees, and caring for unaccompanied minors and refugee children in schools. They have little to no experience in managing large number of refugees and have no tradition of refugee work. In contrary Germany has a broad experience in dealing and working with refugees since the 1970s, and in absolute numbers it is receiving the highest number of refugees within the EU. Volunteers and especially non-profit organisations play a vital role in refugee work: they support refugees in securing housing, food and clothing, but also provide learning opportunities and leisure time activities for the refugees. For Romania and Bulgaria volunteering and refugee work are new developments and therefore they can benefit from the experience of a German Non Profit Organisation. So, this is the reason why this strategic partnership involves volunteer organisations from Germany, Bulgaria and Romania.
About the project:
The partners decided to concentrate on one problem most of the refugees in their country face: not being able to understand and speak the language of their host country. While a lot of refugees learned English or French back home or during their flight, usually German, Bulgarian and Romanian are not studied. Therefore most of the refugees arriving in Germany, Romania and Bulgaria do not speak the language. Only if refugees are able to communicate and to understand the language of their host country, can they express themselves directly without depending on translation services of others. Mastering the new language will empower the refugees, improve their problem solving competences (e.g. in the asylum procedure process), aid their self-sufficiency (e.g. finding, keeping, and advancing in jobs) and their general well-being (e.g. active participation within the community, finding friends, involvement in social activities). It will also help them to understand the cultural differences and requirements of their host country. So failures in communication is a problem, and makes refugee work even more difficult. And this is where volunteers can help: teaching refugees their own language.
The German organisation GLL has developed a good practice model for addressing this problem: it has set up a successful volunteer language mentor programme for children and refugees: trained volunteers help refugees on a 1:1, face-to-face basis to learn the language, helping them to communicate and understand the culture of their new home. Additionally GLL has developed some easy to understand and use learning and teaching materials for the volunteer mentors.
The goal of this partnership was to transfer this successful volunteer programme and the learning materials to Bulgaria and Romania and to adapt the programme to the needs, culture, circumstances of these two countries and through the huge expertise of the two involved volunteer organisations. Additionally, partners changed the programme successfully into a “youth version”: they wanted to attract young volunteers becoming language mentors for refugee children and youth up to 25 years old. In order to support the young refugees, the volunteers developed a “toolbox” with teaching and learning materials, to fit the needs of the young volunteers as “non-professional” teachers and young mentees. Partners also developed a training programme for the volunteers working with refugees, an info-session and intercultural training for young refugees, a project manual for a voluntary language mentoring programme for young people.
These curricula, the toolbox description, and the project manuals are freely available in English, German, Bulgarian and Romanian now on our joint website.
The overall aim of this project is to enhance the European dimension of supporting volunteers in refugee work and to improve the integration of refugees in the different European countries by giving them the opportunity to learn the language of their receiving country. We hope that our “European” model of a volunteer language mentoring programme is useful for other NGOs and helps them to deal with the growing numbers of refugees in Europe.
Gemeinsam leben und lernen in Europa e.V.
Perdita Wingerter (project manager, managing director)
D- 94032 Passau