AMDG Express is always looking out for growth points in the ministries we cover. Occasionally good works are rewarded with publicity, recognition, and even medals and awards. That is not what they want. When we do good, says the Gospel, our left hand should not know what our right hand is doing. But readers will be glad to know of a growth point of really good work in Great Denmark Street. It started as part of the Religious Education programme in Belvedere, then involved training in TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language), then linked up with O’Connell’s School, and later again with the Jesuit Refugee Service. The operation is booming.
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On his recent visit to Belvedere College SJ, Fr. John Dardis dropped in to see some of the Fifth Year students teaching English to adults, and one can only hope that he was impressed with what he saw! The programme started some years ago with a number of Fourth Years completing a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) course and then assisting foreign students of their own age in O’Connell’s School with their English. This continues to this day very successfully, and O’Connell’s School really appreciates the assistance given to their students. It gives the Belvedere students a very good idea of the difficulties facing these pupils, some of whom arrive in Ireland without family. Last year the Belvedere students were awarded the Edmund Rice Award for the work they have done in O’Connell’s over the years. It was a privilege and a great honour to receive this award.
The programme was continued into Poetry Religious Education but this time targeting adult asylum seekers, refugees, and immigrants. About a year after the start of this, the JRS (Jesuit Refugee Services) linked in with us and Sr. Eleanor O’Brien of the JRS has been of immense assistance in running the programme, accessing some of the asylum seekers from the Georgian Court hostel in Gardiner Street, and keeping the Belvedere students abreast of all the latest laws and statistics vis a vis asylum seekers, refugees and immigrants. The students have learned a great deal from her about the position of these people in Ireland and she has also guided them in the teaching of English. Derek Cassidy SJ also facilitates a programme of reflection for the Poetry students which enables them to link what they do to the gospel values of living out their faith through their actions.
The Belvedere students placed advertisements in local shops and this has also brought in quite a number of people wishing to learn English. Word is out in the area about the classes with more and more adults coming to the school on a weekly basis for one-to-one lessons in English.
This year Jack Reynor, a Sixth Year student who taught English to the adults last year, asked if the programme could continue into Sixth Year. He rounded up enough volunteers from the year to be able to take a full class of adults every Tuesday morning.
The programme appears to be becoming more and more successful. Part of its success is due to the fact that the adults are now familiar with the surroundings of the school. The same adults come on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, and the JRS runs classes on a Tuesday evening in Belvedere for them. The biggest part of its success though is, without doubt, the Belvedere students themselves. They are fantastic with the adults and there is a great buzz of conversation and learning in the room during classes. There is little doubt that the adults thoroughly enjoy coming into Belvedere on Tuesday and Thursday mornings and this is obvious from the interaction between each Belvedere student and their ‘student’. Classes are punctuated with a break for tea or coffee with biscuits, organized by Olive O’Donnell, which creates a most welcoming ambiance and is looked forward to by all. It has also allowed our students to see the Muslim religion in practice during Ramadan when their ‘student’ will not even accept a drink of water.
The rewards are great on both sides. For the Belvedere student there is the opportunity of meeting and getting to know the foreigners. There is also the satisfaction of helping them to learn English, making it easier for them to live in Ireland and possibly improving their chances of getting work here. For the foreigner, the one-to-one lessons in English are a bonus as they learn at their own pace and at the appropriate level for their ability. Occasionally there are adults who need to learn how to read and write. For many living in hostels, it’s a reason to get out of bed in the morning, a change of venue, an opportunity to meet some Irish people as well as learning the language without any additional cost. For the lonely, the hurt, and the displaced, it’s a welcoming place to come to where they feel safe and enjoy the company of the Belvedere students and the other foreigners.
The TEFL course gives the students the confidence and tools to teach English to foreigners as well as giving them a valuable certificate for future years, should they wish to travel and earn money at the same time. None of this would be possible without the assistance of the Parents’ Committee which has funded the TEFL course for the past number of years, spawning the growth from the Fourth Year programme to the Fifth and Sixth Year programmes and making a difference in a considerable number of lives.