How language classes help prepare refugees for relocation in Europe

For displaced people worldwide, life is a waiting game. Whether it is waiting for an asylum decision from an oversaturated system, or waiting for a food distribution, refugees often lack access to information and agency over their futures.

Much ink has been spilled highlighting the frustration and fear felt by residents trapped in makeshift, tent-filled settlements across Europe. However, programs by NGOs like Lighthouse Relief are trying to ensure valuable time is not lost, teaching valuable language lessons that can help residents communicate with and integrate into their new communities if and when they’re settled in Europe.

Lighthouse Relief opened its first operation in Filippiada camp in northern Greece in August of 2016. There, the Female Friendly Space (FFS) supports women, girls and newborns through its Infant and Young Child Feeding (IYCF) project and other activities.

(Jasmine Garnsworthy / Lighthouse Relief)

(Jasmine Garnsworthy / Lighthouse Relief)

As part of its activities, the the FFS teaches English, Swedish, and German to women and girls, including several students who have received decisions that they will be relocated in Germany, and are understandably eager to learn about the culture and the language of their new home.

“Three of the students in my class were already accepted for family reunification because of their husbands are in Germany. They will feel much more comfortable in their first days in this new country because they already have some basic language skills and insight into the culture,” explained Leoni Rossberg, a German native and manager of the FFS initiative at Lighthouse Relief.

Residents at the Filippiada refugee camp with family members already in Germany are extra motivated to take classes — not just to learn new skills, but also to feel closer to their loved ones.

“The wish to learn German is, on the one hand, an expression of their hope to be relocated to Germany, and on the other hand they can feel more connected to their relatives again. Right after my first German class a lot of them immediately took out their phones and started to type the basic sentences we had learned to send them to their loved ones in Germany,” Rossberg said.

Filippiada Refugee Camp in the North of Greece (Jasmine Garnsworthy / Lighthouse Relief)

Filippiada Refugee Camp in the North of Greece (Jasmine Garnsworthy / Lighthouse Relief)

About 10 students attend the German class in Filippiada each day to learn everything from basic pronunciation to grammar and spelling, and about life in general in the countries where they might be resettled.

“I always try to teach them something about the German culture within the classes, and beside that we have weekly cultural tea events about different European countries and cultures. If they are already aware of cultural standards and have some basic language skills, their integration process could be much easier," Rossberg explained, adding that as soon as she arrived at the camp, the community began asking for lessons.

Women in Filippiada were each given a German workbook to aid them in the lessons, which Rossberg says provides structure and allows the students to revise away from the classroom.

“They are also happy about the chance to actually use the time in the camp to study and advance their skills.”

In Katsikas, Filippiada and Ritsona Refugee Camps where we operate, Female Friendly Spaces offer privacy and promote a safe, communal environment away from many of the hardships of camp life. In addition to language classes, we also offer creative activities such as handicrafts, henna, spa day, knitting and opportunities for self-care. Retreating from the stresses of daily life in a camp-setting and engaging in a creative outlet can have tremendous benefits for one’s psychosocial well-being.

A glimpse into creative activities in the Filippiada Female Friendly Space 

A glimpse into creative activities in the Filippiada Female Friendly Space 

To find out more about our activities in the FFS in the Epirus region (Katsikas and Filippiada) take a look inside!

Female Friendly Space - Lighthouse Relief - Epirus Region from Tommy Chavannes on Vimeo.

Volunteer teachers and donations are what keep the programme going — programmes like this wouldn’t be possible without your support. Now, more than ever, we must help equip refugees with the right tools to thrive in their new homes. This holiday season, consider making a donation that will enable us to continue providing programming.