On Monday the loveliest woman came to IKWRO’s office for our Nowruz party. Let’s call her Shahla. In between dolma and baklava, she taught me some Middle Eastern dance moves. She also told me how she ended up in England.
Shahla’s in her late 20s. She was part of the pro-democracy movement in Iran and had to leave her home, her family and all her friends behind when the Iranian government issued a warrant for her arrest. She came here last year.
IKWRO helped Shahla to apply for asylum, and even though her application has been approved she still stays in touch. Shahla only started learning English when she arrived here, but when she phones our office she’s always polite and friendly and tries her best to get it right. She wants to make a home for herself here, get a job and stand on her own feet. She knows that learning English is vital.
On Monday Shahla told me all about a fantastic English teacher she has at college – a woman called Maureen who teaches them about popular culture and traditions in the UK as well as grammar and vocabulary. Maureen works hard to get her students excited and Shahla’s face glowed when she talked about her. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that her English class could soon be shut down.
The government is proposing to change the rules so that free English classes will only be available for those on job seekers allowance or income support. IKWRO is very concerned by these changes. Asylum seekers, who aren’t allowed to work or get income support, will be excluded. So will women on spousal visas, and people who are working in low paid jobs where you don’t have to speak English, such as cleaning. Shahla will still be eligible under the new rules, but the drastic reduction in student numbers could cause her class to shut down anyway.
Today is a national day of action to protect English classes for speakers of other languages (ESOL). The Action for ESOL Campaign’s petition already has more than 12,000 signatures. You can add your name here:
If you’d like to support the Action for Esol Campaign in other ways, visit their website: