Helping a Syrian Refugee Family
December 5, 2018 2:22 PM   Subscribe

I've recently started volunteering with a local charity who've put me in touch with a Syrian family. I'm struggling to find online the info I'm after, because searches are just bogged down in politics and war, so if you know anything about Syrian culture, or have experience of teaching English to Arabic speakers I'd really appreciate your help!

We live in a small, industrial town in Northern England. There's 2 Syrian families housed here, and the family I've been visiting have lived here for just over a year. The kids have great English, but mum and dad not so much as the government-provided lessons aren't great. So far I've visited half a dozen times, helping the kids with homework, filling in forms, chatting, and enjoy arabic tea. So:

Question one - some basic Syrian hospitality! Are there any specific gifts I can take when I visit that would be particularly appreciated?

Question two - I'm off to London next week, which I assume has some Syrian shops. Is there anything I could buy as a gift that they would have trouble finding in North West England away from Manchester?

Question three - Mum and dad are struggling with English and finding that really frustrating. As a complete non-arabic speaker, Is there anything practical I can do to help them with this?
posted by sarahdal to Society & Culture (5 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
In response to Question #3:

I have experience tutoring Syrian refugees at a public school in the USA (middle school age, around 11 or 12 years old). As you know, the family is going to through a big transition and culture shock (and possibly coping with trauma). These factors can all greatly affect language learning. Practically-speaking, you can continue visiting them and providing them with a low-stress opportunity to practice English outside of the classroom.

If they have access to the internet, one resource I can recommend is Unite for Literacy. This is a free website with many audio books that they can listen to in both English and Arabic.

Keep encouraging them! I've worked with lots of people learning to speak English of all ages and backgrounds. A little patience and encouragement goes a long way.

If you have any other questions, please let me know!
posted by quiet coffee at 3:50 PM on December 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

Is there a liason at the kids' school to help the parents understand what is going on? It would be great if that person spoke Arabic but you could also fill this role a bit.
posted by k8t at 4:23 PM on December 5, 2018

You could probably get some baklava type desserts or snacks like kaak sticks from Edgeware Road. Is there a Middle Eastern grocery store where you live? If not, can you offer to do a quick grocery trip for them? If they write a short list in Arabic, you can bring it to one of the stores on Edgware Road and have the workers help you find those things.

Do they have smartphones or a computer? Duolingo has English for Arabic speakers. I like the format, and it will help with basic vocabulary. You can show them the app/website. I think it may be in American English, though.
posted by Penguin48 at 4:42 PM on December 5, 2018

I would help them settle into life like you would any new neighbours and let the English mum/dad learn spring from the needs the life you lead together creates. This serves the dual purposes of not feeling like school and building a larger community they can rely on later when their English is more proficient - their needs will continue long past a time when they seem “integrated” or “able to get by”.

This is especially important since the family and friends they have left behind formed, like these people would for anyone, a huge source of the richness of social life that fills our time: a cousin’s birthday party, a wedding, the baker on the corner who always asks after your kid studying in the capital, your boss’ retirement dinner...these two families need to fill these social needs where so much spoken language would have been produced and used somehow. Regardless of test scores, for mum and dad proficiency in English will come when they can live in English, you know?

Some simple and relatively cheap ways for this to happen:

- Inviting them on your own trips to the library/local museum/heritage site
- Inviting them to talks and lectures with local groups you were going to attend
- Mutual meals/picnics/potlucks
- Walks in the countryside (with a map/guidebook)
- Farm visits (if the kids are young enough to enjoy this)
- Art jams
- Five-a-side football, especially if this is a source of social contact for community dads/men who miss out on other social activities aimed at stay-at-home mums during the work day
- Volunteering together with other community neighbours to fix something local/tangible like a broken park bench or do something like being a crossing guard for the kids’ school

Overall, I’d try to bring them to a few different events and introduce them to as wide a community as possible - this will give them more opportunities to use English and also, hopefully, help Mum/dad find more reasons to want to improve their English beyond the bare necessities for work or bureaucracy.
posted by mdonley at 6:42 PM on December 5, 2018 [3 favorites]

Duolingo (free) and Mango Languages (free through a library/school/company subscription or purchase individual monthly subscription) both offer English for Modern Standard Arabic Speakers. Duo can be pretty vocab focused but you do eventually learn useful phrases and sentences. Mango is more conversation based.

italki is a good resource to connect with tutors and learn with a live person over the internet. The cost varies for hiring a community member up through someone with verified credentials for teaching. You can also connect to other community members and I'm pretty sure a lot of people work out casual arrangements that way--I'll teach you my language if you teach me yours--and exchange, say, Skype information and do that.

All also offer Arabic for English speakers--Mango offers different dialects--if you wanted to learn a few words or phrases, too!
posted by carrioncomfort at 5:41 AM on December 7, 2018

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