Mabel Prieto Ariza
Mabel has a background in project management and auditing in the fields of Social Policy, International Development and Financial Services for more than 12 years. She has worked for the Spanish Government, the European Commission and the Private sector. She is a certified auditor and holds a High-Bachelor’s degree in Business Management and Administration.
I am here to build a strong network of solidarity that shares knowledge, where every member learns from each other. A network that unlocks opportunities and contributes to building more tolerant and inclusive societies. Language Beyond Borders is about creating hope. As Noam Chomsky said “If you assume that there is no hope, you guarantee that there will be no hope. If you assume that there is an instinct for freedom, that there are opportunities to change things, then there is a possibility that you can contribute to making a better world.”
I have been teaching English for 28 years and since 2012 I’ve been running my own Language School in Chalkida a town in Central Greece. Even though I have a very busy lifestyle with a school to run and a family of four to take care of, volunteering is in my blood and I always try to find ways to help people in need.
Finding what I was looking for
When I saw on a Facebook group that LBB is looking for teachers I knew I had found what I was looking for. Using my skills and expertise to help refugees and displaced people was exactly what I had in mind. What’s more I always believed in the power of technology and the internet as a means of connecting people. That was the time to make use of it. The LBB team was of course by my side all the time with support, training and assistance. The coordinators were always in touch with me to answer questions and to solve issues.
My happy hour
I still remember my first student Ramtin, who is now free and happy in Spain, and the excitement he had before the lesson. For me teaching Ramtin was the “happy hour” of the week. His determination made me better and his will to learn made me realize that I had found a cause that I wanted to support with all my heart.
I knew a lot of things about the refugee crisis even before joining LBB. Greece is a host country and in my city there is the refugee camp of “Ritsona” that I had visited a couple of times. However, I was shocked when I started teaching a young man from Manus Island. I came to realize that the situation there was really difficult and these people were helpless. For my student the communication we had and the fact that he could talk to a person outside the camp was one of the reasons to keep trying and have faith.
A fulfilling Experience
Volunteering with LBB is one of the most fulfilling experiences in my life. My students’ excitement, their progress and the fact that they can move on in their life is the best reward for me. No money can replace the feeling I get when I know that I have helped young people pursue their dreams and careers. Especially young people who live in dangerous conditions and they are not as lucky as I am to live in a peaceful country.
Last but not least I would like to mention that volunteering with LBB has changed my life and broadened my horizons. I have met people from all over the world. I have learned so many things about other cultures and countries. I came to realize that our world is a small village and we, the villagers, have very few differences.
One Sunday afternoon while I was coordinating a group of students from Palestine I thought: I am in Greece our students are in Palestine, our teacher are spread all over the world, Spain, Philippines, England, Egypt, Romania, China, Serbia … and we communicate, learn from each other, laugh together, co operate, exchange ideas and thoughts. At the beginning I thought this is a miracle. But then I changed my mind. This isn’t a miracle. This is solidarity, empathy, tolerance. This is what we can do. This is hope!
“You take for granted that you can have a conversation with anyone, that you can understand the mannerisms you need to get around, language is so nuanced, you need a lot of time to learn a language” Georgia Van Gils
Finding Language Beyond Borders
I was working in Thailand and had free time. I wanted something online where I could use my skills. I loved the premise of Language Beyond Borders and it matched my skills base.
It’s great because the focus isn’t all about lesson plans and simply building language skills, because we know language is more than grammar. Crucially you get to build rapport and connection which taps into a much deeper understanding of the language.
Georgia on Youhana: First Impressions
I feel so privileged to have met this resilient and hardworking woman. What I keep coming back to is how absolutely lovely she is, how gentle yet enthusiastic at the same time. I just wanted the best for her so I did my best.
Straightaway she was so warm and so friendly and keen to learn. To be honest I couldn’t get over her enthusiasm: she’s an absolutely model student. She’s so driven because the stakes are so high for her.
We’d talk about the weather, what we like to eat and really normal stuff. What stands out for me is that we built a great rapport, it’s real, tangible. The power of connection through conversation should not be underestimated.
Studying for IELTS
She’s studying for the IELTS so she can apply for her degree in the UK. In the first few classes we took stock of what she’d done already and worked from there. I divided the IELTS exam into sections and I’d set her tasks, she’d do them and during the class we’d go over them. She’d demand homework and no matter what was going on in her life she did the homework.
I saw each lesson how she was applying the learning. She had a high level of English when we met and because she worked so hard she came on leaps and bounds during our term together.
Learning about determination
I thought I was determined in life, but Youhana, well she showed me what it really means. She just keeps on trying and trying. I once gave her a really vile past exam paper and her reaction to me was to say ‘give me a deadline for completion’! It’s such an admirable quality. So inspiring. She’s just brilliant.
Georgia Van Gils currently works in Thailand at an international secondary school where she teaches English. She holds a degree in journalism. Following her degree she gained a PGCE (Post Graduate Certificate in Education) from Teach First.
Youhana: The Need for IELTS
To be able to practice as a physiotherapist in the UK I need to pass IELTS and I need a high score. IELTS is hard. It’s like my life depends on this exam: physically and emotionally it’s exhausting.
I met Georgia in 2019. The first thing I told her was ‘I need to improve my reading’. She was really helpful and focused the classes on what I really needed. She found my mistakes were really small and she helped me to correct them. She gave me a lot of writing tasks; found me lots of materials and resources on the Internet.
Friend and Teacher
She’s really wonderful. She’s energetic, supportive, patient and humble. It was like meeting a friend and a teacher. I’ve had English classes before in a language school but I wasn’t respected. I was in an IELTS class but told I couldn’t be in that class anymore because I wasn’t paying and there were too many people in it. I felt really down after that. So I left because I wanted to be somewhere where I was welcomed. With Georgia it was different, there was a lot of mutual respect between us.
You can feel a lot of shame and doing nothing makes you feel useless. I have been volunteering with an organisation in the UK that helps asylum seekers and training to be a community interpreter. I meet a lot of professionally qualified people and I try to support them because they may have suffered but they made it in the end.
Coming to the UK was my dreamland and I came with a lot of expectation but it’s not easy. I grew up with my family in a close knit and connected community. I don’t have that here in the UK.
You have to believe in yourself and work hard. I’ve applied for so many jobs but each time you are let down it’s hard. But when I want something I am stubborn and determined. I’m patient too. I believe if God wants something for me it will come. My message to Language Beyond Borders: please keep doing what you are doing.
Youhana’s family is originally from Eritrea but she was born and raised in Sudan. She was given refugee status in 2018 in the UK. She’s a qualified Physiotherapist. Youhana asked that we did not use her full name or photograph.
“I taught English and they taught me what it really means to need it”
From Ohio to Vietnam
Growing up in a small city in Ohio, USA, I lived a comfortable, stable and secure life, full of promise. I was grateful but I started to dream of a future filled with adventure and opportunities to help others less fortunate than me. To realize this ambition, I knew a big change was necessary. So, nearly 3 years ago, I moved halfway across the world to become an English as a Second Language Teacher. I packed my bags and travelled to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam to complete a TESOL course (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages).
From the instant I stepped out of the airport, my life and my perspective were profoundly changed. During the last 3 years in Asia, I’ve navigated an entirely new environment filled with interesting languages, strange foods, and people of cultures vastly different from my own. While learning this ‘new life’ and shaping myself into a language teacher, I began to study and view language in interesting new ways. The gravity and importance of language became tangible. I discovered that I am able to empower others to ‘find their voice’ in the ever-expanding global community.
A match for my passion
Because of my passion for empowerment, tolerance, and equality of opportunity through education, I knew I’d found a great volunteering match for me with Language Beyond Borders. I began volunteering as a teacher with the organization in 2019. During the spring semester, I had the pleasure of teaching two students based in Gaza. Aiming to provide the greatest possible benefit from our weekly classes, I practiced lesson-planning and tried to better understand online learning and employment environments.
Teaching, coordinating and continuing to learn
As I spent time independently learning about the regional conflict that was their day-to-day reality, the time with the students was spent reviewing grammar, building vocabulary, practicing pronunciation, and conversation. I taught English and they taught me what it really means to need it. By the end of our semester together, we had become friends, and I am sincerely grateful to have worked with them.
During the fall semester, I was asked to act as a Class Coordinator. I was happy to be involved with a group of qualified teachers and motivated students from all over the world. It was also an opportunity to sharpen my own communication and organizational skills.
Language Beyond Borders works diligently to ensure both the process of classes and the progress of students is monitored and developed. It was an honor to work more closely with so many members of the collaborative team. I completed the semester feeling that LBB’s mission of positive social change was fulfilled, and that there is more to come.
As I meet people from every corner of the world, I am constantly reminded of the desires we share: safety, opportunities to pursue our dreams, and to be understood. Language Beyond Borders is a special organization, offering a rewarding and effective way to improve the lives of everyone involved, from anywhere in the world.
In the second in our series of blog posts featuring students and teachers, Mohammed Mahmoud Rahemah (Mo) and his teacher Nicky Andrews talk about their experiences. They met in May 2019, and have had two semesters of classes together. Here’s what they shared with us.
Mo arrived in the UK and established a Syrian brunch pop-up and catering company. His optimism is as abundant as his brunches and it’s impossible not to have your spirits lifted by his passion for sharing food, making friends and his determination to make a positive contribution in his new country.
On life and food
“I left Syria 4 years ago and came to the UK via Lebanon, Turkey, Greece, Germany and France.
Now I’m a chef. Food is a great way of bringing people together and at my brunches you get to know who you’re eating with. I haven’t always been able to cook. I was studying Political Science before I had to leave Syria. My mum used to shoo me out of the kitchen with her flip flops! So, it’s funny because now I ring her up to ask her how to make something.
I have a lot of support in the UK. I am positive and smile because I want people to know that we came here to build our lives again, not to do nothing. Because I travelled through so many countries to get here, I’ve learnt a lot about people and met a lot of people.
I also work for a pizza place, so wherever there is food you can find me. In the future I want to visit my family but that will take at least 7 years. I also want to travel the world and do my brunches”.
“I had a Syrian friend, Omar, who I met in the Jungle in Calais, he told me ‘you need to be more confident, speak more in English.’ When I arrived the UK I signed up for Language Beyond Borders and met Nicky.
We became friends. I really like her personality and her classes. She understood me and because I liked her so much I called one of my brunch dishes, ‘English Class Eggs’ after her. Because of the classes with Nicky I am more confident and I know when I make a mistake. She’s amazing and I can’t wait for her and her husband to come to my brunch”.
If you fancy a great Syrian brunch you can find Mo and the team here: https://www.moseggs.co.uk/
On why Language Beyond Borders
“I had taken a CELTA course and was working in a language school teaching English to business people. But I was looking for something to give added purpose and to give something back to society. I came across Language Beyond Borders online and it was a great fit.”
“My first class with Mo felt a little awkward because I didn’t know what to expect. By the second class we were more chatty and it quickly felt like calling a friend. Early on, our classes were quite structured but over time they became more informal. The classes are now more conversational with corrections. Mo was always so busy that I gave up giving him homework but I do send notes after each class with new vocabulary and grammar. I was really pleased when he told me that he reads them and then tries to apply the learning in his daily conversations. He’s definitely improved: I saw an early promotional video for Mo’s eggs and his English is much better now than it was in the video.
From Mo I learnt about Syria from a human perspective. We really only know what we see in the news about the war. But from Mo I learnt about the landscapes, the culture and his happy childhood growing up there.
At first, I remember being shocked when he would talk about his experiences of bombings and the conditions he lived in whilst trying to find asylum. How he’d spent nearly a year trying to get out of Calais when they closed down the Jungle. Trying to hide underneath a lorry and hoping it would be ‘his day’ to succeed. I just couldn’t imagine what he’d been through.”
“I also learnt what it means to be resilient, positive and kind. Kindness is very much a part of the Syrian mindset. If a stranger on the street needs help you give it to them without a second thought.
Mo is always thinking towards the future, he has such a positive attitude and belief in himself. People in the Western world spend a lot of time and money searching for the secrets to ‘positive mindsets’ ‘living in the moment’ and personal resilience, but for Mo these things just come naturally. I think that maybe he taught me more than I taught him.”
“It’s not just about teaching language, but connecting to another human being“. Nicky, volunteer teacher.
We’re looking for qualified ESOL teachers, who would like to join our team of volunteer teachers for our first semester of 2020!
Who we work with
This year we’ve delivered online classes to students in Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Papua New Guinea, Ghana, and the UK, among others. Our partner organisations include Gaza Sky Geeks who works with Palestinians in Gaza & the West Bank teaching them to code and work online. We help with their English language skills so that they can pitch, interview, and work online in English.
We also work with sponsored refugees who are either living in refugee centres or surviving in third countries while waiting to be resettled in Canada. In addition we support resettled refugees in the UK who face barriers to access conventional ESOL courses due to a lack or shortage of provision. Our online classes enable them to better integrate in their new country and take full advantage of employment and educational opportunities available to them.
Support and training
All of our volunteer teachers complete a bespoke online training course. It covers the technical requirements as well as class content and provides guidance on working with people who have experienced trauma.
There is no set curriculum because we work to support the individual needs of the student. Some learners might be studying for IELTS, whilst others could be beginners or needing to improve their general English level.
“I really liked her classes, she understood me and I became more confident to speak English.” Mohammed, Student
Students also benefit from other online activities such as online tasks and chat groups between their weekly classes.
There are many benefits to becoming a volunteer:
- You’ll join an online community of passionate professionals
- benefit from ongoing CPD opportunities
- gain valuable online teaching experience
- receive a certificate of contribution at the end of a successful term.
Many of our teachers also tell us that they learnt what it really means to be a refugee. It’s also a rewarding and fulfilling experience to play a part in someone’s hope and to contribute to their success.
It takes a couple of hours a week, and you can do it from home. We can only do what we do because of teachers who freely give their time and skills, and for all those who do, we are full of gratitude.
You’ll find the volunteer application form here:
It’s hard to put into words how unique our teacher-student partnerships are. So, we decided to ask them about each other.
In the first of the series of blogs where we asked teachers and students to talk about their experiences, Language Beyond Borders volunteer teacher Silvina and student Khuloud talk about their time in class together. The classes began in September 2018 and they worked together for 8 months; they are still in touch.
Silvina on Khuloud
“Khuloud is a fantastic student, easy to teach and more motivated than any other student I’ve met. I felt there was an underlying level of respect and that she really appreciated the classes.
She has a serious long-term goal, which is to get to Canada, so she needs an *IELTS and stressed to me how important it was to her to progress. At first, she was really concerned about her level but over time there was a change in her: I saw her confidence grow.
I don’t know too much about her life, just what she chose to tell me, and I was mindful not to intrude because you never know what can trigger a memory. Despite her life being very different from mine, there is a bond between us. I’m not usually that open but her willingness to engage, and her openness with me, changed that.
The one-to-one nature of the class, the fact that there is no agenda and no boxes to tick, gives you, as a teacher, the freedom to work in a very personal way. It was just me and Khuloud. She’s a very creative person and into recycling, so I was able to create classes that used these interests. We also shared personal photographs and I would message her between classes too. She taught me about Syria, its culture and food.
I’m not officially teaching her anymore, but we keep in touch. Meeting her has enriched my life greatly. You can’t always relate to what you read in the newspapers and I don’t think what is happening is properly represented. With Khuloud I found that human connection.”
Silvina has a strong interest in human rights and a Masters in Public Policy that led her to study issues relating to refugees and asylum seekers, as well as EFL teaching credentials. She is a valued teacher and class coordinator. Silvina is from the UK. She is currently living in Milan.
Khuloud on Silvina
“I love this lady, she’s amazing, the classes always felt like chatting to a friend. She’s so kind and patient. She always told me I was doing a great job and if I had issues with something, we’d repeat it again and again.
After years of waiting to go to Canada, the dream was finally starting to become a reality, a friend told me, ‘you’ll do much better in Canada if you have English’.
So, I began studying English in Ghana, but the school was a long way from my home and with lots of responsibilities on my shoulders, I just couldn’t continue.
During the first class with Silvina I told her I’m a writer, a journalist and Arabic teacher and I want to articulate and communicate complicated issues! One of the things she did was help me to stop thinking in Arabic and to use the English I have, even if I didn’t have all the words I needed. I always felt confident that she wanted to support me and that she understood me. We had really nice classes together. I’d been to institutions to study English before, but because you’re in a class there aren’t always the same opportunities to talk. With Silvina I had a lot of opportunity to talk.
Before meeting Silvina, my writing was better than my speaking. But now I can think in English and I can say what I want. Now I say to my Arabic, ‘Shut up, I want to think in English.’ We discussed a lot of issues! I learnt a lot of vocabulary and I know how to use it. My confidence has grown too. In class I made mistakes and Silvina helped me to realise how to correct them myself”.
Khuloud is a journalist. She came to Ghana as a refugee from Syria in 2011 with her husband and two daughters. Before the end of the year she will leave for Canada.
(*IELTS is the International English Language Testing System for language proficiency)
Happy World Teachers’ Day to all of our volunteers!
We are so proud of our teachers, of their skill and dedication to what they do, but also of the diversity among our team.
We have teachers of all ages, from 18 to 71, living in and hailing from countries all over the world!
Our volunteers come from 42 countries, 23% are British, 12% from the US, 5% are Indian and 5% are Australian. We are also honoured to have teachers from Spain, Palestine, South Africa, Morocco, and Romania on our team, and many others!
Together, we live across 51 countries! 9% in Spain, and 9% in UK, with other popular countries being Morocco, Mexico, Portugal, Argentina and Brazil.
Thank you to our wonderful team, and to all teachers everywhere, today and every day!
We are celebrating that Khuloud and Sahel, who were part of our very first group of students back in Spring of 2018, have just passed their interview for permanent settlement in Canada.
They might get there in just 6 weeks after years of waiting. There are a few more things for them to sort out but it looks like all systems are go for Khuloud and family! We are so delighted for them! Khuloud, Sahel and their 2 young daughters have been in Ghana since the start of the Syrian conflict.
Sahel is a talented graphic artist and Khuloud is a journalist. Sahel was interrogated at the start of the conflict, after which the family went to Ghana to visit relatives and give themselves some time away from the problems. Thinking that things would quieten down, they received news while away that their house had been ransacked and that it wasn’t safe for the family to return.
They have been waiting for the chance to continue their lives in peace and safety, and to provide their daughters with a future of hope, joy, and opportunities. We wish them all the best and admire their resilience. We know they will thrive in Canada.
I met Ramtin in person today! A year and a half ago he was part of our very first group of students. During this time, I’ve felt his highs and lows and finally, he was granted asylum in Spain.
As soon as he had his flight ticket he sent the details to me. He was to arrive in Madrid at 10:35 am, I could go to the airport to welcome him! The night before his journey we exchanged messages and I wished him a good flight.
Today I went to the airport to wait for him. He phoned me from a Spanish phone number and told me he was going to León city, that he wouldn’t stay in Madrid. I reassured him he would be fine there. Then he passed the phone to the social worker from the organisation that will take care of him in his new city. They told me that he was ok, completing the process of his entry to Spain – at the other end of the airport: I ran determined to see him. I phoned again to check where they were: still waiting for the police checks.
They told me there were 7 refugees in Ramtins group and it would take a while. I waited for another hour and phoned again. This time they told me they were outside the airport but they had left by a different door. I asked for directions to their location: I ran, again. In the distance, I could see the bus, and they were about to get on it. Ramtin spotted me from afar and he ran to me! We hugged and smiled. What a moment!
It was so exciting, so emotional, one that will stay with me forever. I was so happy for him! He started telling me that he was going to another city again and that he wanted to stay in Madrid and that he needed to learn the language. I told him he’d be fine and you’ll learn the language, get a job and then you can move to the city where that job is.
We hugged again several times! I met the social workers and exchanged numbers, I told them we had been friends for the last 1.5 year and that he was one of our first students. The caseworkers were excited to see us meet. It was brief and all too soon they left, but it was enough to see him, make him feel welcome.
We’ll meet again soon I’m sure.
The Autumn term in Language Beyond Borders has officially started! Our first group of students from Khalil in the West Bank, Palestine, started studying with us last week and they are off to a great start!
But what do they think of their classes?
“It was great, I loved it!” Rawan, Student.
“I have to say I’m amazed at the calibre of student, their English was good and they all had terrific personalities!” Nick, Conversation Partner.
“I kept smiling for a couple of hours after I’d finished the class on Sunday!” Alexandra, Teacher.
We’d like to thank all involved for the hard work that has gone into these classes, from students and teachers, to Class Coordinators and partners, everyone involved plays a small part in improving the lives of people unfairly impacted by conflict or fleeing persecution.
We can’t wait to see how much progress will have been made by these students when they complete their level assessments at the end of the term!
This term, the starting dates of the various groups are staggered: in a few weeks a second group in Palestine, this time in Gaza, will start their classes; after that, our three UK programmes will get off to a start; and then our privately sponsored students, from Ghana to Papua New Guinnea and many places inbetween, will start their classes.
Good luck to everyone this term!