Jacari: Time to Teach

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Jacari (Joint Action Committee Against Racial Intolerance) is the oldest and largest fully-student run charity in Oxford, being set up in 1956. Despite changes over the years, Jacari has kept its vigour for helping the Oxford community and for realising the belief which is conceptualised in our very University that everyone has the right to achieve their potential.

Jacari has moved its focus from tackling racial intolerance in general to the more particular task of teaching English to children from local ethnic minorities. As well as all the other difficulties a school child has to contend with, many children at schools in Oxford come from families where English is not their first language. This can lead to disadvantages at school; a lack of confidence, isolation from their peers, and exclusion as they grow older. The children Jacari helps can be anywhere between the ages of 4 and 16, all needing vital help to be able to succeed.

They really are those who are most in need of a supportive teacher, but more importantly, a friendly face. Teachers at the 15 local schools who are linked with Jacari make sure it is the neediest that are suggested for Jacari. They try to match children with a student who has specified a preference for that age range, who is happy to travel to the specific part of Oxford, andwho has the most relevant experience; for example, siblings may have a tutor who already has teaching experience, and some children are paired with a student who speaks their mother tongue – Polish, French, Portuguese, and many others.

The volunteers are all trained to a high standard, with excellent resources – ranging from worksheetsto workshops to a fully organised library – to draw on for their lessons provided by the charity. The value of this extra tuition is immeasurable; Susie, Jacari’s full-time co-ordinator, tells me that “they might struggle to open up to their teachers as figures of authority, but their Jacari tutor is fun, friendly, and easy to talk to. The children are proud of their tutors, and talk about them at school.” The fact that their tutor is there for them, in the security of their own home, offers a means for their specific and particular needs to be addressed. Clare Richards, a 3rd year student who has volunteered for Jacari for just over a year, said that “If one of the girls is struggling with their homework or something, they know they can always ask me to help them.”

Jacari also runs socials throughout the term, where they take the kids on fantastic days out; recent excursions have included Cadbury World, the zoo, and the Roald Dahl museum. Susie also remembers when earlier this term 19 children were taken to Trinity College to look around and play British Bulldog on the lawns – “For children who have grown up in Oxford, many of them have never been to any of the colleges. It’s all new to them.”

However, what cannot be understated is the boost the scheme gives to the children’s confidence. “You can really see the change in their confidence. Suddenly they can interact with other pupils and their teachers.” Jacari seems to relieve the painful isolation these children suffer, and gives them the chance to make the most of their education and go on to achieve their potential.

We should also consider the way that such an enterprise as Jacari’s teaching breaks down boundaries that have grown up in our community. There was one tutor who had decided to walk to her first lesson – in Blackbird Leys. It was the first time she had crossed Magdalen Bridge and had to get picked up by the father of her pupil half an hour later. The conception many of the students at the University have of Oxford as a sleepy old city where the only life is concentrated in the centre is a world away from reality; Oxford sprawls out into the busy suburbs of Headington, Cowley, and Rose Hill. The bubble we inhabit as students is not all Oxford has to offer. Nowhere is the ‘town-and gown’ antagonism shown more clearly than in this insular attitude the disinclination to ‘cross Magdalen Bridge’. In reaching out to the whole community of this city Jacari is helping to remove barriers.

“It’s definitely something I’ve really enjoyed,” says Clare. “It only has to take an hour of your week, though often you want to stay longer. And it’s more than just giving a lesson; the girls’ mum often cooks a really nice dinner so I’ll stay afterwards. It’s like having a family in Oxford.” It’s a good break for students, to do something different to any other of the week’s activities. What’s more, it’s fun. There are volunteers’ socials, like scavenger hunts over Oxford and Christmas parties, but moreover, as Susie says, “you can do something really worthwhile and have fun doing it”.

Jacari is funded by private trusts, grant schemes, and College and Chapeldonations. They are currently going through the applications to bid to receive the grants again, a challenging ask in the current climate. However, they are refusing to be held back. The charity is, in fact, growing from strength to strength. Susie tells me she is the third full-time administrator for the charity, a development in recent years. “The coherency and efficiency of the project has vastly improved since having a full-time coordinator with a student committee of specialist roles rather than splitting the whole workload between committee members”. The sheer volume of things that those who organise the teaching scheme do is incredible. The student committee are responsible for publicity, recruitment, and socials.

In 2010-11, 227 Jacari volunteers taught 280 seriously disadvantaged children 5141 hours of lessons, giving them the tools to express themselves, make new friendships, and give them new hopes for their future. Jacari is achieving something very special every single day, having an impact on a child’s life to help them grow and learn. In over 50 years of work in Oxford, it has gone from strength to strength to do good in this place, and hopefully it will continue to do so for 50 years more.

If you are not in your final year in Oxford and are interested in volunteering for Jacari, visit www.jacari.org or e-mail [email protected] for more details.

– Judith Richardson

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