Volunteering to be a Neighbour

by volpower
4 years ago

As the daughter of immigrants, I’ve experienced first-hand the reality of learning a new language and culture. Growing up with my own parents as English learners has instilled in me a joy and patience for helping others learn. I have been volunteering since high school in various capacities both in my home country and abroad: at a refugee camp, multiple migrant-serving NGOs, a bilingual free health clinic, a children’s hospital, interfaith initiatives, and the library.

Blogpost by Fiona Eichinger, Maltese Team

When I came to Malta in September 2019 as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant for the public middle and secondary schools on the Maltese island of Gozo, I began searching for opportunities to contribute to the refugee support, advocacy and integration efforts. Since I value helping English-learners feel welcomed to communicate without fearing mistakes or facing mockery, I founded the Gozo English Club. The weekly beginner and pre-intermediate courses I voluntarily teach were the first free-of-charge English classes for migrants on Gozo. I also collaborate with local and international organisations to organize community initiatives, such as celebrations for International Migrants Day and International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.  

In January 2020 I organized a public speaking workshop for the Gozo English Club students, facilitated by JCI Malta and supported by SOS Malta. The JCI trainers created a warm group dynamic, immediately getting to know each student individually and referring to them by name throughout the workshop. Small gestures like these go a long way in fostering a welcoming and inclusive environment. We had a lot of fun, too—joking with each other and laughing throughout the workshop. After learning the “do’s and don’ts” of speech structure, body language and audience engagement, the participants overcame nerves to confidently prepare and present their own speech. At the workshop’s conclusion, students commented that this was “a day they will never forget” and reflected on the confidence and skills they had gained.

I additionally serve as Language Coordinator on the Executive Committee of the NGO Hal Far Outreach, which supports asylum seekers residing in the reception center Hal Far Tent Village. I am responsible for the team of English teachers volunteering in the reception center, liaise between the NGO and the government agency responsible for the center, and participate in a language coordination project with the UNHCR, Ministry of Education and Employment, and local NGOs providing English lessons for migrants. 

Through this work, I pursue my commitment to supporting both migrants and the communities that receive them. My dedication to volunteering is rooted in Jonathan Edwards’ question: “How do we bear our neighbour’s burdens, when we bear no burden at all?” C.S. Lewis likewise maintains that “our charity must be a real and costly love.” Handouts, though perhaps financially burdensome, are not sufficient. We need to invest in advocacy, friendship, and support in education and employment. We need to become a neighbour.