In October 2015 a makeshift classroom in a mobile unit opened its door to a group of excited kids in a refugee camp for Syrians near Dohuk in Iraq. Initially, only minimal supplies were required to get this ‘safe learning space’ off the ground, and I initiated a crowdfunding campaign to raise some startup funds. But it has been a long journey, with many challenges along the way. The first of these is the fundraising; it is hard asking people to donate to a personal crowdfunding page. In order to gain credibility, I realised that we very quickly needed to set up an official vehicle for Heart ELT. Recently I have ploughed through mountains of ‘how to’ paperwork about establishing, charities, nonprofit entities and CISs (Community Interest Company).
Heart ELT is now a company limited by guarantee – a nonprofit organisation. In a nutshell, profits generated by Heart ELT’s publishing and training activities will go to support the projects or back into the organisation to cover costs. Like any other organisation in the UK, it has to have full transparency, due diligence and good governance. However, in order to really make an impact and to be able to do more, we have to raise substantial funds. I am currently doing part 2 of an online course on fundraising run by Philanthropy University and have started to read up on the best way to approach the big fish donors.
No sooner had we set up a safe learning space and started teaching the kids in Domiz camp, in Iraq Kaniwar Kh Ali, the logistics officer who had initiated the project, told me he was leaving the camp. The other Syrian volunteers teaching in the camp also started planning to leave Iraq for Turkey en route to Europe. In addition, we faced some intercultural challenges; the volunteers started to demand payment for teaching in the camp and we simply didn’t have funds to sustain this. We needed volunteers. Recently the Ministry of Education stopped our teachers going into the camp to teach the kids. They told us we need to obtain a license to teach in the camp. In addition, they say we have to buy our own mobile unit. We are currently investigating what we can do to solve these problems in Domiz camp and have been talking to our contacts at the British Council in Erbil. One option we are looking into is putting a volunteer in place. We need a teacher who speaks Arabic and is familiar with the area.
Crowdsourced publishing – the key to future fundraising
Although crowdfunding got us started, in hindsight it is not the best way to raise funds. We decided to make an appeal for help, not money. In personal messages directed at a group of teachers and authors in Facebook groups we asked people to write an activity for a book of photocopiable activities called the A-Z of Hope. The response was overwhelming, within a few hours we had enough contributors to fill book 1 and by the next morning enough to create two books.
It is admirable how many teachers have come forward to offer their help to the project. People from all walks of ELT and beyond. We even have a poet on board. Yes, people really do want to help, but they don’t know what they can do. The answer is ‘just ask’ and we’ll tell you what kind of help we need. So here we are at the crossroads of publishing English Language Teaching Materials to raise funds to support teaching refugee children in Europe or further afield. Our mission is simple ‘We believe all children have a right to education.’
From the start, we were aware that we’d have to open the project up to support other initiatives. At the moment, there are so many teachers going out to Greece off their own backs and often they have little or no resources or support. These are the Angels of ELT and we need to support them. We need to equip them with advice and guidance on suitable materials. To address this need, we have started adding useful resources to the webpage. Yes. The road is long and sometimes we face obstacles (opportunities?) along the way. I am used to that, I was born on a Thursday. As my Mum used to say ‘Thursday’s child has far to go’…
The first publication
The A-Z of Hope, available soon, is a book of photocopiable materials for young learners to teenagers. It is an activity book based around universal themes of childhood. It will be available as a hard copy (£21.99) and PDF (£11.99)
Please join us. Contribute. Buy the book. Please also consider buying two copies; you can keep one and donate the other! You can pre order your copy now online! Go to www.heartelt.org and after clicking ’ buy the book’ go to the forthcoming titles section in the store. In the UK it will also be available from KELTIC, BEBC and ELB.