Canary Islands: a Spaniard uses his garage as a language school for migrants

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As authorities in Spain’s Canary Islands continue to grapple with the continued arrival of large numbers of irregular migrants, a local man has turned his garage into a classroom to give Spanish lessons to newcomers.

A group of young men sit at wooden desks, eagerly writing down the Spanish alphabet and pronouncing the letters. But their class is anything but ordinary: Around them is a van, bicycles and a surfboard.

This is the garage of Tito Martin, a Spaniard who lives in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. About a year ago, Martin began noticing a lack of resources for the growing number of migrant arrivals in the Atlantic archipelago he calls home, reports the Reuters Press Agency.

So Martin, one of the 2.2. million inhabitants, started an improvised language course in his own garage.

“I thought it was time to stop just being okay with the news and comments on the [migrant] situation and take action.”

More than 26,000 African migrants have landed on the shores of the island group in the past 11 months, overwhelming authorities and arrival facilities. After being initially housed in hotels and other tourist facilities, mostly empty due to the coronavirus pandemic, thousands of people have been moved to camps whose conditions have been criticized by rights groups.

Read more: “A child needs more than food and shelter”: the plight of unaccompanied minors in the Canary Islands

More than a classroom

“I want to learn Spanish. Before living in Senegal, I had never been to school, I could not read,” explains Mar Low, 25, who comes three days a week to the garage of his tutor. He arrived in the Canary Islands eight months ago.

After 14 days at sea, five of them without food or water, a Spanish rescue ship rescued him and the other passengers from the boat he was on. “If they hadn’t helped us, we would all be dead for sure,” he said.

Mohamed Gueye, Mor Low and Ali Thiam, migrants from Senegal, take Spanish lessons in the private garage of Tito Martin, in Las Palmas on the island of Gran Canaria, Spain July 21, 2021 | Photo: REUTERS/Borja Suarez
Isabel Florido and Tito Martin give Spanish lessons to a group of Senegalese migrants who arrived on the island by boat, in Las Palmas on the island of Gran Canaria, Spain July 21, 2021 |  Photo: REUTERS/Borja Suarez
Isabel Florido and Tito Martin give Spanish lessons to a group of Senegalese migrants who arrived on the island by boat, in Las Palmas on the island of Gran Canaria, Spain July 21, 2021 | Photo: REUTERS/Borja Suarez
A group of Senegalese migrants who arrived on the island by boat receive Spanish lessons in the private garage of Tito Martin, in Las Palmas on the island of Gran Canaria, Spain July 21, 2021 |  Photo: REUTERS/Borja Suarez
A group of Senegalese migrants who arrived on the island by boat receive Spanish lessons in the private garage of Tito Martin, in Las Palmas on the island of Gran Canaria, Spain July 21, 2021 | Photo: REUTERS/Borja Suarez
Ali Thiam, a migrant from Senegal, learns Spanish from volunteer teacher Isabel Florido in Tito Martin's private garage, in Las Palmas on the island of Gran Canaria, Spain July 21, 2021 |  Photo: REUTERS/Borja Suarez
Ali Thiam, a migrant from Senegal, learns Spanish from volunteer teacher Isabel Florido in Tito Martin’s private garage, in Las Palmas on the island of Gran Canaria, Spain July 21, 2021 | Photo: REUTERS/Borja Suarez

Isabel Florido, a local French and English teacher, contacted Martin when she heard about his initiative. She is now part of a group of volunteers who teach Spanish.

“I’m a conscious person, aware of what’s going on around me and the reality is that…my island is hurting right now, I care,” she said.

Marin’s garage isn’t just a classroom. It also provides its students with a safe haven – a place where they can shower and have a bite to eat.

“What I received above all from the boys was gratitude, despite their desperate situation,” he said.

Read also : “Every boat is in danger” – rescuing migrants trying to reach the Canary Islands

This article is based on a Reuters feature by Jessica Jones

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