By Babs Kamsteeg
— When Ina Schebler, third-year social sciences student, asked on Facebook if anyone would be interested in teaching her Arabic, she was hoping for a response from one of Amsterdam University College’s guest students. The question generated so many positive reactions, both from guest students offering their help, as well as from others interested in learning the language, that it resulted in an informal course which is currently followed by a class of around 20 people.
The group of students that has started taking Arabic lessons is being taught by current and former participants in the Right2Education project, which was introduced to AUC in January of this year. Stefan Nass, a second-year science major, saw the enthusiasm that followed Schebler’s post, and used the opportunity to set up the course. He is now organizing the weekly classes together with Ellen Ackroyd, board member of Right2Education, and a group of guest students.
According to Nass, the course is attractive because it is not as official as the ones offered by AUC. “This is just an easy way to learn it”, he said, explaining the popularity of the Arabic classes. “A lot of people would not choose it as a course at AUC, picking it over French for example, even though they want to learn it”, he said, adding that it is also nice to know that guest students are teaching it.
Peppi Vänäänen, a first-year social sciences major who is happy to be enrolled in the course, agrees with Nass. “It is really nice to have the refugees as teachers, because they really are […] like fellows and friends”, she said. According to Vänäänen, the course is so successful because it is voluntary. “Everyone is there because they want to be.”
Since the first class on April 4th, the organizers have had to deal with many practical difficulties. According to Nass, the main problem is that guest students can be relocated outside of Amsterdam by the Dutch government, as the shelters in which they reside are only temporary residences. They are often sent to official registration offices in different parts of the Netherlands for a procedure that is necessary to receive a residence permit. When the project began, there were two separate groups having classes on different days. Fekar Hassan, a former guest student from Damascus, taught one of the groups, but she had to leave Amsterdam for a new location after the first week. “What this has shown [during] the past few weeks, is that you can’t plan that far ahead”, said Nass.
Because Hassan can no longer teach, the class is currently being taught just once per week by Abdullah Nashef, a guest student from Aleppo, who has been involved with Right2Education from the beginning. However, on April 18th, Nashef was informed that he would also have to leave Amsterdam in order to start his residence permit procedure in Budel, a southern Dutch village. “It sucks”, he said, “but I have to do it. I will come back as soon as possible.”
According to Nass, this problem will also be resolved. “Abdullah said he would be willing to travel to Amsterdam every Monday, which would be great”, he said. If this is not possible, other guest students will temporarily replace Nashef, so that the classes can continue. Nass remains convinced that the organisation is able to deal with issues like these.
Ina Schebler hopes that after the chaotic start, the project will eventually stabilize. Despite the early struggles, she is very happy that the class is happening. “The atmosphere is good”, she said, “and people are really motivated. I started learning Arabic by myself and it took me two months to get to the point that we got to in two weeks.”
Even though the Arabic course is not formally part of Right2Education, the two projects are closely linked. “We do really want to include it in R2E, because it is one of our founding principles that, yes, we give [the guest students] an education, but they give us so much in return”, said Ackroyd, “and this is just another example of that.” As the group struggles with the ongoing relocation of guest students, its board is exploring possibilities to work with refugees who have a residence permit already. This would stabilize the project and might also positively influence the future of these student-run Arabic classes.
The featured image for this article reads العَرَبِية (al-ʻarabiyyah), which translates to ‘Arabic’.