DELANO: Language tandem fights isolation of most vulnerable

 In Language Tandem, Press & Media, STC Luxembourg

A volunteering organisation is harnessing technology to help displaced people living in Luxembourg improve their language skills and aid their integration journey during confinement.

When businesses and educational facilities closed on 16 March, the activities of volunteer platform Serve the City were also placed on hold.

“The challenge was to keep in touch with the different communities we were serving. We focus on encouraging local solidarity with neighbours, family and fundraising,” committee member Nicolas Duprey told Delano on Wednesday, adding: “We wanted to do something more and that’s how we came up with the idea of the Sprooch Tandem (language tandem).”

In the past, the group organised film nights at shelters for asylum seekers and refugees. Duprey and other members recognised the importance for these new arrivals of social contact and language learning. But confinement risked setting their progress back.

To combat isolation and give asylum seekers the tools needed to continue learning and interacting, at the beginning of April Duprey and other volunteers launched the Sprooch Tandem project. Clearly it struck a chord– within 24 hours they found 50 people willing to teach languages voluntarily. Now the team is in the process of identifying beneficiaries and matching them with volunteers.

“It’s up to the volunteer and beneficiary to decide what they use [ video or phone call or other apps ]” said Maria-Elena Belli, an Italian interpreter, French teacher and Serve the City secretary. Belli has pieced together support documentation to assist volunteers, covering methodology as well as guides to remain culturally and emotionally sensitive to the beneficiaries’ situations. “There are some topics we can’t really ask about because we don’t know what they have gone through,” Duprey explained.

As anyone who has tried learning a new skill remotely during the confinement may be aware, technology has its limitations. Belli tries to overcome the challenges by sending pdfs and other written materials for beneficiaries to work on. They are currently focused on teaching English, French and Luxembourgish. But there have been requests for German and the pair said they will adapt to the needs of the beneficiaries.

Nicolas Duprey and Maria Elena Belli are pictured at the Serve The City Brussels International Forum in 2019. Photo: Serve The City Luxembourg

While life in private homes can become tedious on lockdown, Duprey and Belli said it is worse inside the shelters. “The best way to protect them was to have them stay within the shelter, 24 hours a day, without going out. It’s difficult because they are far from home, or family and they have no news. They are not able to connect to the new community and the new society,” Duprey said.

The fact the entire population of Luxembourg is now also living in confinement, could also help nurture a greater understanding of what beneficiaries experience as they wait to receive their papers and start a new life.

“They are really just waiting. We’re experiencing it now. We understand how frustrating it is for us. Imagine what it is like for them […] It will be interesting for us as well to see the volunteers’ feedback,” Belli said.

The language exchange is one of a number of initiatives to have emerged in Luxembourg in response to coronavirus measures. Duprey was heartened to see the spirit of solidarity in Luxembourg and hoped the momentum would continue after quarantine measures end. In any case, Serve the City hopes to continue the Sprooch Tandem and is even talking about meeting the beneficiaries to share a meal once social distancing rules are relaxed.

Anyone interested in volunteering as a language teacher can find out more about the initiative by emailing or visiting their Facebook page.


Full article published in DELANO by Jess Bauldry here.

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