SINGA meaning “connection”, has for six years been creating spaces where refugees, newcomers and locals can connect as equals – no matter where they come from or their background – to exchange ideas, share the things they love, and try something new.
On behalf of Nextdoor, I went along to their language cafe event in east London this week to offer German and English language skills.
The idea of the language cafe is still being worked through and as it turns out, our first session was to gather ideas about what we could do with this time going forwards. Our group shared thoughts on where the language cafe should take place, how long it should be, the start time and finally what kinds of things we could cover.
As a priority we discussed how learning the language of the home country is vital for immigrants and newcomers to integrate more smoothly into the local communities they join so they can get up and running more quickly. However, the reality is it’s often difficult to access resources particularly for those most in need. A language cafe would provide a free, regular session with access to free tutoring and a chance to meet new people.
A lot of refugees, asylum seekers and newcomers have forms to fill in, documents to read or need to put together a CV, all of which can often be a bewildering experience. Therefore, we discussed that part of our sessions could be carved out to help with these documents. We would have to avoid giving advice but we could at least help people understand the meaning of the words. This would ensure visitors to the Language Cafe could come and enjoy an interactive game or activity but still have help with a more serious matter if needed.
In our group, we had a Syrian member who spoke Arabic, a Swiss who spoke German, two native French speakers, two native English speakers and one German native speaker. We had all studied languages and agreed language is more than just words. It’s a way of understanding the culture and the history of a country. How could we bring this into the language cafe sessions?
SINGA already host group walks in the countryside where members can practice their English, meet new people and see a slice of what we all call the great British countryside, but we could do more walks in different places closer to London, art sessions, board game nights, yoga in the park and community gardening. If any of the activities helped members gain new skills as well – all the better.
Finally, as we sat in the cafe we discussed how we could reach more people, specifically those in need and location became an obvious topic. Community centres are more likely to be on the radar of people wishing to be more involved in their local community so if we could host a session there it would be better.
In the last five minutes our Syrian group member shared her story of moving to the U.K. She had learnt English at school back in Syria and came to England for University. After finishing her degree she began working with refugee children, welcoming them in their new communities as they arrive. She explained it is rewarding work and she loves being able to provide them a little comfort. However, she was shocked to hear how much her country had changed. There are entire cities that have gone and the situation isn’t getting better. Her mother and sister are still there. It’s sobering, but important to hear and left us with even more determination to help those in need.
Nextdoor’s mission is to provide a platform where neighbours can come together to build stronger communities. We truly believe that when neighbours start talking, good things happen. Whether that’s having a cup of tea with someone, hosting a meet-up event or supporting a local group activity. There’s plenty of things people can, and are doing to bring neighbours closer together. However, sometimes it is hard to reach out and connect. That is why we created Nextdoor. It is a tool to empower neighbours, providing them with a platform to help communicate with their neighbourhood and enabling them to plan and facilitate community events and issues a lot easier.
It’s clear from meeting SINGA that our missions are very similar and there are some opportunities for us to work together in the future. Stay tuned for more!
Find out more about SINGA here: https://www.singa.org.uk