Jean Newbold has been volunteering as an English language teacher at the Centre for more than 10 years. In that time she has taught hundreds of people, many of whom have fled terrible atrocities in their home country, to learn English, and so begin to build a new life in the UK.
As Jean says: “Once a teacher, always a teacher”. She spent much of her working life teaching in mainstream schools, before joining the VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas) where she taught English to students in Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and Russia.
“I did learn Indonesian, but never mastered Russian. Having lived abroad I can understand a little about the frustration of not being able to make yourself understood. I remember one time in Indonesia, I was in tears because no one could understand what I was trying to say”.
Jean first volunteered at the Centre in the late 90’s, and then came back 10 years ago – and hasn’t stopped since.
“I like teaching. In life I think everyone wants to use their skills, but to be able to use them to help people means that you can really enjoy it. The Centre is a place of mutual respect. I might never hear my students’ whole story, but there is an unspoken knowledge that I am on their side – even if I am not running the Visa service. The classroom is a place where – even if it’s just an hour – they can think of something else.”
In this sense the Centre is a sanctuary, a safe place for people in need. “Hearing some of my student’s life stories, makes you shut up a bit about your own problems” says Jean.
“I have a woman in one of my classes who has fled from Syria with her teenage daughters, she talks about her husband, but I don’t know where he is and I don’t like to ask. I can see the emotion is just under the surface, you can feel the sadness there. I have another student who was imprisoned in Iran, so cannot go back – she hasn’t seen her son for 18 years. I wish I could change things, but all I can do is give them this bit of space.”
This bit of space is one of hope. For many people learning English is the first step towards further education or finding work – in fact Jean is currently helping two students to prepare for pre-university exams. This next step, however big or small is why the Centre is here.
“I don’t always know what happens next, you don’t hear from everyone. But sometimes I bump into students in the street – and when I hear how they are doing it makes me feel so good. I taught Entsar for three years, it is so nice to feel that I had a hand in her journey. I am really proud of her.”