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BC TEAL Refugee Project

The Beginning

As the Syrian refugees began to arrive in Lower Mainland – many BC TEAL members and English language teachers started to consider how they could to best volunteer and support refugees new to our country. As a professional community, English language teachers were able to offer not only their support but also their teaching expertise to refugees learning a new language and bravely adapting to a new culture.

It seemed a perfect fit to approach BC TEAL, the provincial English language teachers association, and ask for their support for a pilot project for teaching English to refugees in the Lower Mainland. A pilot project seemed a good beginning and if it worked perhaps the regional TEAL reps would consider similar projects in their communities.

BC TEAL Board Support

After much discussion on January 2016 the BC TEAL Board agreed to support the BC TEAL Refugee Project as a way for experienced trained English language teachers to volunteer to teach refugees. The original proposal called for a team of 10 to 12 teachers to volunteer to teach for a minimum of 3 hours per week for three months. The project’s mandate was to serve all refugees who were unable to attend government funded English language classes.

The Incredible Committee

The amazing response from teachers who wished to volunteer meant that a committee was needed to make the project work and as a result a ‘committee of six’ came into being. From the beginning, everyone on the committee worked hard – coordinating, meeting, emailing, phoning, collecting teaching resources and best of all  - creating a website. The project succeeded because of the hours and hours of work put into the project by Ann Talbot, Pat Kennedy, Jennifer Pearson Terell, Virginia Christopher, Joan Acosta and Lesley Hemsworth.

The committee was divided into two groups – Ann, Pat and Jennifer took on identifying and locating and then coordinating and matching refugees with teachers.

One of the first tasks was to develop a comprehensive list of the settlement agencies as well as private sponsors and contact people. As a result – countless hours were also spent talking, emailing and texting anyone who was interested in knowing about and/or taking part in the project.

In the early weeks, it was difficult to make the arrangements because most of the Syrian families were large and it was challenging for them to find affordable places to rent in the Lower Mainland. As a result, many refugee families were forced to remain in downtown Vancouver hotels. In response and with the cooperation of ISS, the project arranged for English instruction on Saturday afternoons at the Welcome House for those refugee families still living in the downtown hotels.

Lesley, Joan and Virginia took on the huge responsibility of setting up a website to provide online resources for both the teachers and the refugees. This was necessary because there was no budget for teaching or learning resources. It was hoped that the teachers could use the online resources and information with their students as well as anyone else teaching English to refugees.

Lesley, Joan and Virginia researched and collected textbooks and print materials and set-up and incredible repository of online resources for learning and teaching English for both teachers and refugees.

Please take some time and have a look at this amazing site. It is available to all teachers and students for learning English.
Website –
Password – 640WestBroadway

The Amazing Teachers

The call for volunteer teachers was sent out at the end of January from the BC TEAL office. The response was amazing. Over forty experienced, expert English language teachers completed applications and agreed to donate their time and expertise to teach refugees.

The first step was to request that all the teachers who expressed interest in the project complete and submit the following three forms
• Application Form
• Responsibility and Confidentiality Agreement
• Criminal Record Check

In the first weeks of the project and after teachers had completed their necessary documentation – it became evident that real flexibility was needed in order to meet the needs of the refugees. It also became evident that there were many more refugees who wanted to learn English than could ever be accommodated by the government funded LINC programs.

The teachers who volunteer are amazing. Each teacher has made a personal commitment to volunteer to teach every week for a period of three months but always the teachers seem to give so much more in the way of kindness, caring and generosity. Most teachers who volunteer teach full time and yet many have agreed to meet with their refugees more than once a week. Many have gone the extra mile and helped in different ways, for example, arranging for home study materials, helping with trips to the doctors’ appointments, organizing library cards and entry into community centre programs. And beyond this – one teacher took her refugee family to Granville Island on a field trip, another teacher took her students to a nearby park for English lessons when the power failed while still another teacher took her blind student to the doctor and arranged for translator. It is truly an amazing group of teachers who are making a real difference in the lives of refugees new to the Lower Mainland.

One of the sponsors wrote an email about Marti Sevier, one of the teachers early to the project, and the difference she was making;

“I would like to take this opportunity to thank you… As you know, language barriers when moving to a new country can be extremely challenging and intimidating. Your expertise will not only help this family with their English, but will provide much needed confidence to face the challenges ahead.”

In the end – over 40 English language teachers are volunteering to provide English lessons for over 170 refugees through the BC TEAL Refugee Project.

In Appreciation


In appreciation to the following who have generously supported the BC TEAL Refugee Project:
• Michelle Ronback, Academic Director at Kaplan International English for a very generous donation of over 100 English language textbooks
• Layla Maghsoudi and ‘In Unison’ for donating clothing, baby supplies, snacks and childcare for refugees attending English lessons at Welcome House
• ISS for a selection of 20 English language textbooks and tapes
• Karen Rauser for two sets of Butterfly Communication Cards in English and Arabic
• Jennifer Walsh Marr for personal teaching resources
• Pat Andrew Keith for personal teaching resources

All these very generous donations are currently being used and greatly appreciated by teachers and refugees taking part in the BC TEAL Refugee Project.

Settlement Organizations and Sponsors Groups

A special thanks to the following organizations for their support and help in identifying and liaising with refugees wanting English lessons and to the many other organizations who answered our calls and shared information.

• PIRS [Pacific Immigrant Resources Society]
• ISS [Immigrant Services Society]
• VAST [Vancouver Association for Survivors of Torture]
• Inland Refugee Society
• Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver – Refugee Program
• The Salvation Army Belkin House
• Our Lady of Good Counsel Church
• Muslim Centre

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