The University’s own North East Solidarity and Teaching (N.E.S.T) were shortlisted for the Charity of the Year award earlier this month.
The award recognises an organisation “that has had a truly exceptional year and whose recent achievements have attracted the admiration of the sector.” The charity outperformed internationally-renowned Refugee Action to achieve finalist status with the British Red Cross.
N.E.S.T is a student-run programme that provides asylum seekers and refugees with a range of opportunities to connect whilst improving their English. Four years on from their initial eight-person English lesson in Newcastle’s Students’ Union, N.E.S.T is now home to 600 learners of all ages as well as hundreds of volunteers
An important part of N.E.S.T’s achievement this year was their adaptation to the coronavirus crisis. Asylum seekers are given £7.55 per day to live on and have been acutely impacted by the pandemic; many charities that provide vital financial, educational and social support have permanently closed.
N.E.S.T ensured learners were able to continue accessing support by holding classes on Zoom as well as delivering toys, clothes, sanitary products and translated newsletters to learners’ homes. Learners with limited access to Wi-Fi or devices receive regular “wellbeing calls” and a penpal scheme is also in place.
Virtual recreational sessions included games nights, challenges, bedtime stories and home workouts. These were held multiple times a week alongside increased childrens’ activities in the absence of school and N.E.S.T’s creche services.
Volunteer Angie Tjahjadi has had to adapt her twice-weekly English lessons, which now take place on Zoom, and says that “keeping the class interactive is a bit more challenging.” As rumours of a lockdown began to circulate she hurriedly worked with another learner to scan the books they used in class in order to create makeshift booklets for learners to take home from their last lesson.
“It was the highlight of my week to go in every Saturday and Sunday and see them all walk in through the door, all smiles and ready to learn. It’s not the same online – how could it be? – but there is still a sense of community.”
Tjahjadi spoke of unwavering friendships between volunteers throughout lockdown: “During Ramadan we hosted online Iftar get-togethers for those who were stuck in the UK without their family so they could break their fast together instead of alone.”
“We can’t change the whole world, but we can change the worlds of people around us. I feel lucky and honoured that I’ve had N.E.S.T throughout lockdown to continue doing what I can for the people that I can support during this time.”
N.E.S.T has seen a high intake of learners and volunteers since March. In response to recent surveys, 100% of learners asked reported being better able to communicate in English as a result of attending. All learners also said they felt happier because of N.E.S.T.
A spokesperson for the organisation commented: “This makes us very proud”, adding “We hope to return to in-person sessions as soon as it is safe to do so and reunite our family!”
N.E.S.T are currently working on a new project to support refugee children in schools.
Featured Image: N.E.S.T
Last modified: 18th October 2020