Elzbieta Sarapata (Ela) is from a mountain village called Piechowice in Poland, and is a qualified teacher. Through her church and a passion for helping others, Ela met with one of our Action Language teachers, Ruth Colclough, whilst volunteering in France back in 1990, and they formed a long-lasting friendship. It is this friendship that has led Ela on a journey of discovery that embraces the English language, volunteering, humanity and ultimately a visit to Action Language this summer.
For the past 9 years Ela has been teaching private one-to-one English lessons in Poland to pupils aged between 7-18 years. As a teacher, Ela is passionate about making her lessons relevant and engaging and achieves this by applying critical thinking whilst delivering the lessons in the English language. With Ruth’s lesson ideas and her support in sending over English newspapers, Ela encouraged her students to embrace very relevant and topical global issues, for example single use plastics, whilst at the same time helping the students to improve their command of the English language. Ela was delighted when the opportunity arose to volunteer for a week with Action Language this summer, here in Newcastle upon Tyne, and she was keen to increase her understanding of the issues facing asylum seekers and refugees and how this works in the UK. Ela explained “I hope to use the knowledge to better understand why my country is more fearful and less welcoming to these people. I would also like to encourage more volunteering in Poland by sharing my positive experiences with others”. During her volunteering week at Action Language Ela supported about 10 or 11 different classes; each one offering different teaching styles and levels of student ability, whilst supported by volunteer teaching assistants.
“I was made to feel so welcome by everyone at Action Language and really felt part of the groups from day one. Everyone was very respectful and kind and the classes so enjoyable. I met learners from around the world including Sudan and Eritrea and their journeys have inspired me to look further into the conflicts that these countries are enduring to understand more” Ela added.
As part of our most recent ESOL for Work course, we included (as usual!) a session on volunteering, as a way of gaining experience and enhancing one’s CV. Surrounded as we are at the moment by the Great Exhibition of the North, students were directed towards volunteering there. Two did so, Aleksandra and Lin. Aleksandra volunteered with the Concordia Festival, helping as primary school choirs moved around different venues in Newcastle singing in each place. Here’s her feedback:
“Hi Ruth, I just wanted to thank you for this opportunity for Concordia Festival! It was such a nice experience because children were singing so beautifully!!!”, and Lin? – well, let him tell you himself! “Hello Ruth. Thank you for the great information of Great Exhibition. I have been a volunteer now and attended training sessions as many as I can including First Aid course yesterday. In addition, I have attended the cycling shift of Sound Journey for Newcastle. All of those are very helpful to me. Thank you very much.”
As well as hoping to support our clients to take advantage of new opportunities, we also want to help them with progression, and volunteering is a great way to progress from our ESOL for Work course, and hopefully one day, on to paid work too!
You can find out more about the Great Exhibition of the North and their volunteering opportunities at https://getnorth2018.com/get-involved/volunteers/
Ella joined us in the summer as both a Volunteer Fundraiser with Action Hosting and a Teaching Assistant with Action Language.
Ella explained: “I am a second year Edinburgh university student who was lucky enough to have the opportunity to volunteer with Action Foundation, working with both action language and action hosting. I am an active member of a few university societies that support refugee rights and was very keen to complete some sort of work experience within a refugee charity. When I began researching refugee charities to get involved in I was particularly drawn to action foundation because of it’s focus on overcoming exclusion through providing skills which enable community integration, through its provision of English lessons and also through the hosting scheme; which I thought was so important in ensuring that refugees and asylum seekers have a positive experience and are able to give back and feel at home living in England. Prior to my volunteering I had never dwelled on the importance of speaking English, because it’s something that comes so naturally to me, but the work Action Language do in providing free English lessons is so essential in making every aspect of the student’s lives easier and more accessible. I was initially a little nervous entering into language classes having had no experience teaching and not being particularly patient or good at explaining things, which I considered pretty essential teacher qualities, however the other volunteers and the teacher were so helpful and my fears were all incorrect. I really enjoyed the time I spent volunteering within the language school and was struck by the warmth of the students and volunteers and also enjoyed being involved in the process of learning English and the lifechanging effect it could have on the lives of the students. Through the time I spent within the language school it made me realise that for the students the lessons offered not only a way to learn English but also a way for people, who could easily become isolated, to meet friendly faces and get to know a network of other students in similar positions, and it was a pleasure to temporarily be part of the little community of students and volunteers of Action Language.”
“As well as my involvement with Action Language I had the opportunity to work with Action Hosting and came to better understand the depressing reality of what the fate for many rejected asylum seekers could be. However, I also got to see the life-changing work Action Hosting and the volunteer hosts do which through the simple idea of matching up hosts with spare rooms transforms the lives of both the asylum seekers who stay as guests and also in many ways the hosts as well. My personal project within the action Hosting department involved brainstorming ways to spread the word about action Hosting and attempting to find new hosts, this was great to be part of because it gave me a sense of autonomy and also hopefully will generate a new wave of hosts. My time at Action Foundation was extremely rewarding, both in terms of providing an understanding of the daily running’s of a charity and how a little bit of time from volunteers in English classes or through offering up a spare room it can completely transform the lives of asylum seekers and refugees” Ella added.
Thank you Ella for all your hard work and great company!
In celebration of Refugee Week, we welcomed the Lord Mayor of Newcastle, Councillor David Down and The Lady Mayoress to Action Foundation.
As one of the Mayor’s two chosen charities for the year the timing couldn’t have been better. They joined an Action Language class and helped with a geography quiz on capital cities around the world before joining our Housing team to find out about our Hosting and Letting projects. We look forward very much to working together with The Lord Mayor over his coming year in office for the benefit of Asylum Seekers and Refugees in our community.