Chloe’s work experience

14 Oct

Towards the end of last year’s summer term, I was given the opportunity to go on work experience at a charity called English For Action. It was just luck I was given such an enlightening placement, which was done just through the founder bring a family friend.
Arriving in casual clothes on the first day, I didn’t know what to expect. I knew to be polite, listen to what I was told, but had no idea what to do.
Luckily I had done some research before on the charity, which is fairly new, set up by Dermot Bryers. The charity provides free, community-based English courses for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) and their families in London. Their tutoring is inspired by Paulo Freire who was a Brazilian educator and influential theorist of critical teaching who believed that a classroom was place for teachers and pupils to be equals. They see education as a tool for social change.
I walked into a large room, filled with sewing machines, resembling a workshop of some sort and to the right stood a proud wooden table surrounded by 15 or so chairs. It was in Whitechapel, an east London borough where the large majority of the resident population are of varied ethnic origin, primarily Bengali. The class was only men, all over the age of 25 and upon meeting them I quickly and naively assumed they had fairly recently immigrated to London, but many of them had lived there for over 20 years, but were never given a thorough education in which their English language skills could have been improved. And living in a densely populated Bengali community it was hard.
I quickly settled in at the front of the classroom (somewhere I’m not used to being) and what struck me was how easy this was for me. Simple. It wasn’t because I am very bright or knew about teaching, but it was because I didn’t even have to think before I answered the question: ‘how many t’s there are in little’ or how to spell ‘house.’ The responses just came out of my mouth. It seems so obvious but it until I actually did this I didn’t realise how lucky I was to be a fluent English speaker. These people were keen and desperate to learn more, to create greater opportunities for themselves, to get a well-paying job and to talk care of their families (which many Bengali’s put emphasis on). To them, English id critical and I take it so much for grated- as many of us do I’m sure.
In reality, none of us have the time or energy to change our happy everyday routines to find out more about teaching course or setting up charities because as much as we’d like to and as much as we say we’d love to help others, we are distracted by our own busy lives again and this sinks down our list of priorities and gets lost. It’s like when you watch Comic Relief and you’re so inspired and moved by those short films, you decide you must do something for these people and not only donate but go to a third world country and get involved in improving the lives of others. Then as soon as you switch off the TV, jump into bed and wake up the next morning, without even knowing it you’ve slipped back into everyday routine and the thoughts of last night are brushed aside. I know this because regrettably, I do it myself.
But some people have done it and English For Action has created a happy classroom environment where people can meet others from the community and help each other with English as they work towards the same goal.
I attended three classes in all during my stay, and in the evening I researched the most deprived London boroughs which may need EFA so as to write bids to foundations, asking for funding. However, on the Wednesday lesson, in Greenwich, it wasn’t until the end of the lesson I became aware of the gravity of some of their situations and what it was like. Frank and Andrea were a couple from Ecuador who asked to stay behind after class to talk to us. They had moved here just 3 months ago and had a 5 month old baby as well as a ten year old son who attended the local state school. Frank was working as a cleaning on minimum wage and Andrea was not yet able to work because of her new baby. They lived in a one bedroom shred apartment of which they were about to be kicked out of due to the baby disturbing the others house mates. They explained all of this to us in Spanish (which Dermot is fluent in). They wanted to know what benefits they would be eligible to and how to go about receiving them- especially when they couldn’t speak the language very well. I realised that this wasn’t normally a teacher’s job- it wasn’t part of the class- but Dermot was so trusted as a friend and they needed him- he was so important to them and this was clear. It made me realise how much of an impact the charity had made on so many.
I was given the task of finding this information out for them and to be honest, it was overwhelming. I knew nothing about where to start on this process. When I did enquire, it took hours on the phone to many recorded answers and it was so difficult to organise. It was so difficult, and I’m a fluent speaker of English. I cannot imagine what it would be like to do that in a foreign country, in a foreign language. It must be so daunting.
Eventually, I managed to book them an appointment with an adviser and helped them complete the lengthy forms necessary to apply. And I believe they’ve now completed this process.
It opened many years to the ignorance I had been living in and showed me how much just a little bit of funding can help people like Frank and Andrea. Language skills are taken for granted by some many of us- I think it’s time we shared them, or at least donate what we can to those who do take the time out of their busy lives to help others.

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