Reach & Teach: Where refugees are guest students
Seven International Studies students are at the helm of Reach & Teach, a student platform that uses language lessons and social activities to promote the integration of holders of residence permits and asylum seekers in The Hague. Elsa Varela Put chairs the project and explains how it came into being.
Where did the idea for Reach & Teach come from?
Last summer it began to bother me that there were so many refugees and I was not doing anything for them – I really wanted to help in some way. I first became a language buddy for a woman from Iran and a man from Syria. That went really well, but I wanted to help more people. After brainstorming with family and friends, I got this idea for a student community that would provide language lessons and work with a buddy system. I told my cousin about it; she studied at University College Amsterdam. And it turned out that they had set up a similar project there: Right2Education. I contacted them, and they helped me tremendously in setting up Reach & Teach. I then formed a board with six other students. They are all incredibly driven and work really hard to make Reach & Teach happen.
How does the International Studies programme contribute to the project?
International Studies really teaches you to look beyond the obvious. We learn to step outside our own Western perspective and be open to other cultures. This produces very broad-minded people, and many of my fellow students are incredibly enthusiastic about Reach & Teach. The department is also contributing: my programme coordinator gave us permission to reserve rooms in the Wijnhaven Building. There is such a university atmosphere there – it makes the guest students who come for their lesson feel like real students.
Why is that so important?
The ‘refugee’ label is incredibly stigmatising. It strips you of your identity: you are no longer a doctor, a student, a mother – you are only a refugee. With Reach & Teach we want to get rid of that label. This is why we focus not only on language lessons, but also on the social aspect of integration. That is perhaps even more important than learning to speak the language. Most refugees I have spoken to stress that they want to be less isolated. They don’t just want to learn Dutch; they want to get to know people and be able to meet someone for a drink. That’s why the buddy system is so perfect: you get a buddy to hang out with. And together with your buddy you form part of a student community, a large social network of volunteers and guest students.
What do you see in the near future?
We now have approximately 30 guest students. We are busy planning, and hope to give our first group lesson in Dutch in a few weeks. We also plan to organise a weekly social event to bring everyone together. With a bit of help Reach & Teach can grow into a large project that can benefit many people!
Would you like to help? Lesson materials and excursions cost money, so all donations are welcome! Transfer an amount to Reach & Teach at NL03 ABNA 0571 3106 21.
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