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The women here are so eager to expand their knowledge

“Bonjour, je m’appelle Rosie et j’enseigne française aux femmes dans l’Athena Centre for Women. J’habite en Angleterre et je suis venu à Chios de faire du bénévolat de quelque manière que je pouvais.”

Hello, my name is Rosie and I teach French at the Athena Centre for Women. I live in England and I came to Chios as a volunteer to do whatever I could.

After only three lessons, I can see how willing the women are to learn something new. Some in my class are learning English, French and German, as well as speaking Arabic daily. They are so eager to expand their knowledge – they practice very hard and come back much improved to every lesson.

In the first few lessons we covered only very basic French: the alphabet, greetings and colours. The women seem to have a very good grasp of the accent (sometimes the hardest part for foreign speakers) – perhaps because in Arabic, some of the sounds are similar. For the next lesson, I plan to teach verb construction, hopefully they will understand the grammar as well as the conversation!

I have seven women in my class, all who live in camps on Chios. I find it astounding that they can focus their minds so readily on something new when so much uncertainty surrounds them all the time. They are determined to make it to Europe and when they arrive they say they want to be able to easily communicate with the locals. They no longer want to be treated as foreigners and refugees. This is why they take part in so many classes every week.

As the schedule changes next week we will increase the number of lessons to three – this will give the women more time to practice in class and it hopefully means they will speed through the beginners’ element of the language.

I am lucky enough to have a very patient Arabic-English translator in my class; some of the women don’t read English so she is priceless! In Syria, she taught English to children and now she teaches the women here on Chios. She takes my French class and relishes the fact that she is finally managing to do something for herself.

As I walk through Souda camp the women approach me – ‘Bonjour Rosie, ça va?’ – always eager to try out their practised conversation!

I have never taught a foreign language to those above age 7 before. So this is a first for me as well and so far I have loved every minute. I am amazed at the determination of the women to distract themselves, to learn something totally alien to them and to make a difference to their currently mundane and uncertain lives. Already I am so proud of them all.

— by Rosie Johnson

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