Every week, a group of almost 40 people meets in The Hague to chat, illicitly borrow chairs from classrooms, and share knowledge. This is the work of a student-led non-profit called Reach & Teach.
The groups are made up of university students, asylum seekers, and holders of residence permits. The aim? Language and cultural exchanges through lessons and social activities. Ultimately, Reach & Teach wants to help people integrate into the Netherlands. It’s an example of the can-do spirit in Dutch academia and society, and shows small actions can have big effects.
I interviewed Josephine Abdellatif (18), who is responsible for Reach & Teach’s external communications, to tell me about the organisation, its successes, and their plan to walk 40km to raise money and awareness.
How did Reach & Teach start?
About a year ago, Elsa Put , who now Chairs Reach & Teach, decided she wanted to do something to improve integration [read an interview with Elsa here]. So she started talking to people about the idea. She learned about another organisation at the University College Amsterdam, Right2Education. They really helped get us set up, giving ideas for starting up and structure.
What’s the idea behind Reach & Teach, how does it work?
We have about 10 guest-students and two teachers per class. The language lessons take place twice a week (per level) in this format. People are able to learn and socialise during and after class. Then, there are our events. Here, each student is paired with a volunteer ‘buddy’, so they can chat and get to know each other informally. We organise these events about once a week.
The beauty of this initiative is that it’s two-way; it allows the asylum seekers (guest-students) to learn from volunteering university students (teachers). But also the other way around. Both will learn something and both feel heard.
Also, this set-up helps fight social isolation. There isn’t enough attention for the mental health of refugees and migrants; they have a lot of stress and need people to talk to. Happier people can learn more as well.
Our Chair, Elsa, said the following in an interview for Leiden University:
“The ‘refugee’ label […] strips you of your identity: you are no longer a doctor, a student, a mother – you are only a refugee. With Reach & Teach we want to get rid of that label. This is why we focus not only on language lessons, but also on the social aspect of integration. […] Most refugees I have spoken to stress that they want to be less isolated.”
We all need friends, to help us along and to learn from. Reach & Teach provides a space in which to make them!
Of course, we rely heavily on donations – books and other materials cost money. That’s one of the ongoing challenges. But we’ve learned so much in setting up this organisation. From an organisational perspective and from the people we’ve met. We’re really grateful for that.
Was there ever a ‘YES! This is going to be a success’-moment? What was the process like?
The process was tough, but gratifying. Like I said, we received help from Right2Education. And Leiden University granted us rooms for our lessons, so that was one less worry. Still, there were some stressful times.
But there isn’t really ONE moment I could point to, more a series of challenges we overcame. Finding funding, enlisting student-teachers, timetables and venues for language lessons, social events…
If I had to choose though, maybe the moment lessons started?
Since March, lessons have been up and running, for more than 70 people. It’s an amazing to stop and realise what that might mean. We’ve heard so many positive things from our guest students. Seeing the progress made at our weekly events, it’s clear that all that hard work was so worth it.
Will all of the people that you ‘Reach & Teach’ stay in the Netherlands?
Of course, that’s not certain. They might not be granted asylum, or they might go on to a different country. However, most who join Reach & Teach will probably stay; they’re usually ‘status holders’, who stay in one place longer and therefore have more incentive to join us. They may ultimately aim to take the citizenship exam.
Either way though, there are people here now. They want to socialise and learn, not sit around staring at a wall.
We need to be pragmatic about integration, and kind about people. Reach & Teach provides that, in an accepting and social environment.
Any projects lined up for the future?
Yes. We will walk 40 km on the night of 17 June, as part of the ‘Nacht van de Vluchteling’ – Night of the Refugee. It’s a sponsored walk to highlight the extreme distances travelled by refugees fleeing violence.
If you want to, sponsor our Reach & Teach team, please do so via this link. We’d really appreciate it and it’s for an amazing cause! The proceeds go to emergency help for refugees and the internally displaced.
Finally, tell us a bit about the people behind the organisation.
We’re seven Board Members, all International Studies students at Leiden University.
Elsa is our Chair and responsible for internal communication/coordination. Ilinca does PR and Soraya is the Academic and Teacher Coordinator. Hannah is our Treasurer and Head of Acquisitions. Student Coordination is done by Teba, and Chiara is our Events Manager and Buddy Coordinator. And then there’s me, Josephine – I do the External Communications.
We’re holding elections now for new board members. So it’s exciting to see what next year brings, but Reach & Teach is definitely going to continue!
Want to help Reach & Teach?
Lesson materials and activities cost money, so any donation is welcome!
Transfer to ‘Reach & Teach’ at NL03 ABNA 0571 3106 21.