The Exchange Expirience SIMI and british Xenia organization

The "Xenia" organization has also been awarded several times for a fun and effective way of learning English for migrant women. It regularly organizes free workshops on Saturdays for migrant and refugee women in a safe environment, which develop the English language in an entertaining way and enable mutual two-way social interaction. The basic idea is to connect, share and learn together. The aim is to increase the self-confidence of migrant women in English, make new friends and create a community.

These workshops take place in the Hackney Museum in London, which was intentionally chosen for its accessibility, as they open a space for sharing stories out of the life of these women who can participate also with their young children. The lectors are a mix of skilled teachers and volunteers so they can provide a two-way integration.

The organisation was started  by a young British woman, Theodora Cadbury, who through working in the voluntary sector, became aware of a lack of appropriate English provisions for migrant women in London where the women often lived in monolingual communities.

The meetings of Xenia have been held from 2016 and since then Xenia’s organisers, some of whom have no background in teaching English, have developed and evolved highly effective approaches for promoting English language learning, and for creating connections between women from different backgrounds.

The events are also held on an entirely drop-in basis. This means that women can attend as regularly as they wish, with no expectation that they will come to every workshop. Xenia is providing a climate without judgement, which is very important and the volunteers that are helping with the classes are all women as well. The group is a mix of women who are learning English and women who speak fluent English. Everyone participates in the session as an active equal, so there are no 'teachers' or 'learners', and the conversation topics are designed so that everyone can access them, no matter their level of English. Each workshop has his own topic (like London or maps) and is usually discussed in smaller groups.

In the workshops, there is always a facilitator to guide the group through the different activities, so participants do not need to know or to prepare anything for a session. Due to the restrictions of the pandemic Covid-19 the sessions take place online at the ZOOM platform nowadays. There are normally around 15 to 30 participants in the group and the facilitator puts everyone into groups of 2-4 people, each group with a mix of fluent speakers and learners. The facilitator explains at the beginning how the session will work and will explain Xenia's main values: that everyone has something to teach and everyone has something to learn.

The main impact of Xenia is the reduction of the isolation amongst migrant women and increases these women’s independence. The migrant women attending Xenia explained that the workshops were opportunities to socialise, get to know new people and to make friends and the key of the organisation is that it is a women only group. So is the case of Aysha 23 when she explains what has Xenia meant to her:

"Xenia has helped me lots with my English speaking and listening and we have time to have real conversations. I am used to people laughing when I make a mistake, but the women at Xenia are so kind and helpful, they correct me, and I feel more confident. I am learning from women at Xenia about how to speak to, and help, other people. I am learning a ‘sharing culture’ from women at Xenia. I tell friends back home about this culture and it makes me feel welcome in London. It is so nice to hear other women’s stories. Some people in London are scared of how I dress. It makes me sad and sometimes I am scared to go out because, when they see me wearing the full-face veil, they see me as separate. At Xenia, women don’t make me feel this way, they make me feel welcome. They always respect my boundaries and ask permission. Xenia also introduced me to a course for unemployed women, where they gave me the idea to start my own business. At Xenia they are giving me other opportunities, not just language. Now when I apply for jobs, I put two women from Xenia as referees. Before Xenia I did not go anywhere by myself, but the women at Xenia made me feel safer. Now I am happy to live in London.”

Xenia has grown out of the dedicated efforts of a group of young women who wanted to personally connect with migrant women in London, and share stories, while taking part in a genuine exchange of language and cross-cultural learning.

In the times of the Covid-19 pandemic, Xenia has unfortunately lost their personal contacts not only with women but also with their venue, the Hackney Museum. To revive these ties at least occasionally, women at Xenia come with an idea of a Social Media Takeover with the Museum. Parcitipating migrant women are asked to take picture of their objects, to which they have some special memories or emotional ties, and to describe their relationship to theses objects. All these objects of hearts will be presented during an online “exhibition” event on 10 April, which will be held together with the staff of the Hackney Museum and a larger audience would be invited to participate in.

Project called Invisible power rises, is funded by the British Embassy Prague.


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