Brighton Local Pursues Empowerment Through Education for All Refugees

via: kakna's world (flickr)

Kate, a Brighton based teacher of 20 years, began a journey two years ago that turned into a mission. A mission to take quality skills and language education to those who cannot go to school.

Kate spent a year volunteering in the ‘Calais Jungle’, and on returning to the UK she made a pledge to find a way to take education to as many refugees as she could. There are over 65 million people currently living as refugees. Over half of them are children. Most are not in school. Kate identified this a major problem that highlights the urgent need for us to do more. So Kate set up Crisis Classroom.

Kate, whose previous projects have all been crowdfunded by generous donors, is returning to Indiegogo for a third time to ask for another round of crowd-funding which will support a specific project to enable her to take education to refugees who cannot go to school.

The first time Kate took to Indiegogo, donors helped her to buy a yellow, double-decker bus which we transformed into a solar-powered classroom and drove to the Jungle in Calais. It went on to become the School Bus Project and has supported the education of 1000’s of refugees.

Kate’s first trip to Calais became a catalyst for her further work, igniting a passion to help young people that she felt were being neglected by the institutions and political structures that were supposed to help them. I asked her if there was a moment or a story she could recall that made her realise how she could help the situation, and how important her help could be.

“It all came into sharp focus when we went for our first visit in October 2015. We took art supplies for the Good Chance Theatre and wanted to speak with the residents of the Jungle to see if they felt education was important and, if so, what was the most important for them. The boys we met were aged between 15-20. They were the same age as my son and they were all alone in the world, in a new, hostile country living in a toxic wasteland in makeshift huts. They looked after us, made us tea and told us their hopes and dreams. That was when I knew that I needed to more than just send stuff. I needed to go there and teach them in person. There was such human potential going to waste. Such a passion for self-improvement through education. Such an open and kind atmosphere. Such trust in the goodness of humanity. There was no way I could just go home and not do something for them. So in January I moved with my family to Calais and became their teacher.”

“Two weeks ago I went to Paris to visit one of my first students. He came to the Techfugees conference with me. He is training to become a software developer and website designer. When he is qualified and has a job he has offered to work on our charity website as a thank you. I cannot tell you how much that meant to me. To see him happy and healthy, living in Paris and working towards his dreams. This is what I would love to be able to give to all who see education as a way to reach their dreams.”

The passion and determination that Kate shows towards making the awful situation that many young refugees are facing better, and futures brighter, is amazingly admirable and an example for all of us. Her experiences in Calais catalysed and crystallised a vision to deliver continued and consistent help to those in need all over Europe.

The second time donors helped her cause was to buy a prototype inflatable Crisis Classroom; which now travels around Europe providing a safe space for learning, volunteer training and bringing communities together.  It pops up in 10 minutes and can reach the places that traditional classrooms and even buses cannot reach.  You can see it in use here in Italy.

Kate is now asking for help again to buy that classroom its own van so that the team at Crisis Classroom can go further, faster and more frequently.

A Transit van can carry 6 teachers, the classroom, teaching resources & vital equipment and can be driven by most of our volunteers.  It can go into city centres, remote villages and even drive to the edges of the forests and wastelands that have become home to so many refugee men, women and children.  “One van will enable us to cover the south east of the UK and the northern part of France.”

Kate’s time in Calais taught her that the refugee crisis was not going to be over quickly.  That we couldn’t wait for the powers that be to find a solution.  That we needed to self-organise, prepare properly and take the solution directly to the people that needed it. So the team used their skills as educators and therapists to develop a teaching methodology, resources and a training programme so that they could get as many trained volunteer educators as possible mobilised to support refugees with their education.  They even created a free online MOOC with Cambridge English to support people already volunteering with refugees and those wanting to take the first steps toward doing so. You can find it here and it’s live now.

For Kate, education is both life-saving and life-changing.  “It cannot be lost or stolen. Once received it belongs to us forever. It enables people to take back control of their lives, to regain a sense of self and purpose.  To feel human again.”

“We have now trained over 200 volunteer educators in the Crisis Classroom methodology. Those amazing volunteers are taking their skills to refugees in the UK, France, Italy, Greece and beyond.  Some volunteers have taken their skills as far as Vietnam! But they are being slowed down by logistics.  There is simply no time to be held up by travel gripes.”

This Transit van would allow the team to create a low-cost, nimble, fully-equipped mobile classroom, to take teams of highly skilled and prepared volunteers directly to where they are needed the most, and allow them to reach more refugees, more often and have more impact.

Kate plans to spend £5,000 on a Transit van, £1000 on insurance, £1000 on converting the inside into a mobile stock cupboard / library / vital equipment, and £1000 on initial travel costs.

“Each of our teachers has their own crowd-funding capability. That way we know that 100% of donations are going on sending teachers, resources and equipment directly to where they are needed.  If we raise more, we will simply fund more projects, more teachers, more resources.  Perhaps we will even buy a van for our Crisis Classroom team in Italy.  We certainly won’t waste a single penny!”

“Education doesn’t change the world.  Education changes people.  People change the world”  Paulo Freire

“When the Jungle closed I put all my energy into setting up Crisis Classroom with Darren Abrahams, a local trauma therapist, so that we could prepare lots more volunteers to work as educators in communities all around the world. People’s needs continue once they reach safety. In fact, if anything, they become more complex and need more consistent support. Once the survival instinct passes, once people have ‘arrived’ they need to find a sense of purpose, something to work towards. They want to make friends, contribute and get back to who they used to be. This is made difficult by how long it takes for people to gain status. So volunteers are essential in this dead time. Befriending, helping with English language, showing people around your town, inviting them to take part in activities, these are all things that crisis Classroom do to welcome new arrivals into communities.”

“As our army of awesome volunteers grows, we want to offer workshops and skills & language classes in homes, community centres, offices and open spaces all around the country. So if people have a skill they’d like to share, they can train with us and we’ll show them how to repurpose it to support someone to move on in life and get back to standing on their own two feet again. Skills can be anything from advanced mathematics, to web design, to crochet to which supermarkets sell the best value items and everything in between.”

“Volunteers only offer what they want to offer. This can be a week away in a refugee camp or a one off workshop at one of our community days. Some volunteers meet their students weekly, some only once. It really depends on everyone’s needs and what they can offer. There is no minimum sign up. Once you’ve completed your training you can volunteer as and when it suits you.”

“It’s quite overwhelming some days, that’s for sure. But then when you look at the individual stories, see the individual human lives and watch people grow, you know that you’ve done something that has changed their future for the better and it’s all ok again. No one can help everyone, but we can all help someone. That’s all we need to do. Crisis Classroom tries to make it that little bit easier for you to do it, that’s all.”

If you can, please follow the cause on social media and keep talking about the refugee crisis.  It is everywhere, every day and it will need all of us, working together to make it better for those caught up in it.

“Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can make a difference.  Indeed it is the only thing that ever has”.  Margaret Mead.

To pledge to this more than worthy cause, you can go here.

Crisis Classroom are holding a free family friendly celebration event on Wednesday the 15th of November at Brighton’s Latest Music Bar, so if you want to express your gratitude for the work being done, to meet the team behind this excellent project, or learn more about how you can become involved beyond your donations, then save the date get yourself down there.

crisis classroom event

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