Parents who couldn’t yet speak English struggled to help their sons and daughters with homework, prepare for exams, and make important educational choices.
When lockdown came, they felt even more lost. Many had already sacrificed so much to give their children safety and an education in a new country. And now schools were closed indefinitely.
Three members of Belfast’s Anaka Women’s Collective, Hiba, Twasul and Mohga, decided to take action. Together, they set up an education project to make homeschooling work for other refugee parents and children.
Listen to their stories below to discover what women can achieve when we work together to find practical solutions to the problems we share:
Hiba is a founding Anaka member and mother of four. She studied Law in Sudan before being forced to leave.
After getting refugee status in Northern Ireland, Hiba now works to support and empower other migrant women and their families. It was her experiences as a single parent living through the asylum system that inspired our education project.
Hiba sent out a survey in Arabic asking other mothers about their family's experiences of education in Belfast. She had over 50 responses - here are some of her key findings:
Hear Hiba's story:
“The most positive thing is that I got help with homework during lockdown.”
Nada Taha is a civil engineer from Sudan who arrived in Belfast during the pandemic. She completed Hiba's survey, and took part in the project’s online learning sessions with her two children.
Listen to Nada's story:
Based on the survey results, Hiba, Twasul and Mohga developed a new programme to help parents and children with homeschooling.
They split the 80+ children signed up to participate in the project into three age groups - one for each key stage of Northern Ireland’s education system.
And then they made a call for help. In response, over 30 working and retired teachers, teaching assistants and students offered to volunteer for the project during Covid-19.
‘My expectations were completely exceeded… So much so that I’ve decided to go and do teaching.’
One of their new volunteers was Sinead, a PGCE (Postgraduate Certificate of Education) teaching student at St Mary’s College in Belfast.
Hear about Sinead's experience of being involved:
Thanks to Sinead and her fellow volunteers, over 80 children and their mums were matched with volunteer teachers for weekly individual Zoom online learning sessions.
Hiba, Twasul, and Mogha coordinated and hosted the learning groups, helping out with translation if necessary. They also organised parent information sessions about the local education system and different online schooling platforms such as Google classroom and Microsoft Teams.
“I feel free at home”
Ahmed, aged 13 and Nada’s son, attended the online lockdown learning sessions. For him, there were some benefits to lockdown learning.
Listen to Ahmed's story:
An independent evaluator, Chris McCarthy, worked with Hiba throughout the project. She recorded the experiences and ideas of the mothers, students, volunteer teachers and project organisers.
Chris's report will highlight the impact and future legacy of the Anaka Education project. While it began in response to a crisis, it is still relevant to many refugees’ everyday experiences.
Hiba, Twasul, and Mogha’s initiative demonstrates what we can achieve when people with direct experience are listened to and involved in creating a solution to their problems.
Their project can in no way replace the Education Authority’s services, which it is duty bound to provide. However, the Authority could build on this brilliant work to make sure every child in Northern Ireland will reach their full potential in the future.
Anaka would like to dedicate our Education Project to the memory of Hiba’s mother, Salha Siri Ibrahim, who sadly died of Covid-19 in Egypt on 2 September 2021:
Salha, we are so thankful to you for teaching Hiba the importance of helping and caring for others and inspiring Hiba to dedicate her time to empowering women in our community. رحمها الله و غفر لها.’ (This is an Arabic blessing said when someone dies, similar to Rest in peace, that translates as 'May God have mercy on her')
Anaka Women’s Collective educates, supports, advocates for, and celebrates women who are refugees and seeking asylum in Belfast. Anaka is the name of the goddess of the Nile, the river that flows through many of the countries that the women in our collective have come from.