Image credit: Jacari

Supporting refugees in Oxford: how you can help

While the UK celebrates Refugee week between the 19th and 25th of June 2023, Oxford students can get involved via language teaching charity Jacari.

With the University of Oxford being recently named a University of Sanctuary, Oxford’s commitment to welcoming and promoting the work and needs of displaced people has been highlighted. Charities including Asylum Welcome have operated in Oxfordshire for decades, delivering vital services, but this year The Oxford Student has chosen to shine a spotlight on Jacari

Jacari was founded as a student anti-racist movement in 1956, but has evolved into an Oxford and Bristol-based charity that tutors children for whom English is an additional language (EAL). It remains Oxford’s oldest student-founded charity, and achieved political support from the University’s Conservative, Labour and Liberal Clubs. 

In the 1950s and 60s, senior board members for Jacari included lords, knights and MPs. During this time, speaker events and discussion groups explored the topic of apartheid in South Africa and the US civil rights movement. Both were reaching their peaks, and students rallied against racial intolerance. In Hilary 1960, Jacari college reps led a boycott against products imported from South Africa, and in March 1963 petitioned against an Oxford-Cambridge rugby tour of the country. 

When Jacari re-emerged – after funding problems – in the early 1980s, it had refocused its resources on teaching students. By 1994, volunteers were teaching all over Oxford, as they are today. In 1995, Jacari’s slogan changed to “all you need is enthusiasm”, and their first website was launched around the same time. 

With the motto “time to teach”, Jacari recruits student volunteers from Oxford Brookes and the University of Oxford to commit to one hour a week of tutoring. This volunteering is not limited to students, as Jacari attracts everyone from former teachers to local residents keen to make an impact. 

During 2021/22, Jacari supported 153 children and young people, working with over 20 partner schools across Oxford and Bristol. Almost 90% of volunteers felt that their tutee had become more confident over the course of the year, whilst 97% of tutees enjoyed their Jacari lessons.

Volunteers have the freedom to choose what they teach, but are given training and resources to use. These include worksheets, phonics flashcards, whiteboards and classic childhood games such as “Guess Who?”. Volunteers are based across Oxford, at schools including East Oxford Primary and Rose Hill Primary. 

Although most migrants that arrive in Oxford come to work and study, Home Office data shows that almost 250 people in Oxford were receiving asylum support between March 2022 and March 2023, whilst around 500 refugees in Oxford have arrived via the Homes for Ukraine scheme and Resettlement schemes. This makes Oxford a diverse and youthful city, but also makes Jacari’s work more challenging.

In 2021, The Oxford Student spoke to Freya Turner, the Lead Co-ordinator for Jacari in Oxford and their student co-President Nailah Ranjan. At the time, Freya raised how difficult it had been to encourage tutoring online during the pandemic, with 30% of Jacari pupils unable to access technology at home.

Last year, the charity began encouraging larger groups of volunteers to go into schools together, with group activities helping pupils make friends and grow in confidence. Ben Crowther, Oxford co-ordinator, emphasised why this is so important: “There’s a lot of evidence from the Bell Foundation (the sector’s research institution) that EAL pupils were disproportionately disadvantaged by the school closures across the pandemic.”

Jacari is also helping to eliminate the “town and gown” divide in Oxford. By encouraging students to volunteer, many of those from more privileged backgrounds have the chance to learn how difficult it can be to adjust to a new school, language and community. Jacari provides a rewarding, fun and low-commitment opportunity for students.

Ben explained how the charity is always expanding and looking for new opportunities to engage with the community. “We were pleased that students from across the university contributed to our translation project earlier this year”, he said, “volunteers translated our introduction leaflet for parents into key languages spoken by the families that we support in Oxford. Our student committee is keen to take forward this project next year to ensure that parents can learn about how our programme can support their children in their own language.”

I got involved with the charity last year, through an email from the Geography Department. Jacari was asking for more volunteers and I signed up. Having a big extended family, I missed my younger cousins and it felt strange that I knew so little about Oxford’s suburbs; I had never even been on a bus in the city before I started volunteering, despite coming from a village myself. Now, I travel to Rose Hill Primary every Monday and tutor some brilliant pupils, which has proved to be a great break from work.

Kevin Kim, a visiting student studying Politics, Economics and Law, echoed this, stating that “I knew I wanted to get involved in some way with the community outside of the Oxford University “bubble.” I’d been thinking about how the relationship between the student and their university city is often extractive/one-sided. So I wanted to do the best I could to prevent that during my time in the UK.”

He added: “both of my parents immigrated to the US, and through them, I got a firsthand look at how important speaking, writing and reading English is”. Kevin mentioned how “seeing my tutee happy, running round and telling me how their day was always made my day”. This childish joy and silliness is often missing from our lives in Oxford.

The charity’s goals remain much the same as in 1956, even as they grow and attract funding from across the UK. This Refugee Week, consider volunteering with Jacari or making a donation.