Palestinian joins Syrian refugee in giving free Arabic classes in Limerick

Overwhelmingly positive response to initiative

Anne Sheridan

Reporter:

Anne Sheridan

Palestinian joins Syrian refugee in giving free Arabic classes in Limerick

Tutor Radwan Aboujahar from Syria Picture: Michael Cowhey

A PALESTINIAN who left Syria just as the war broke out is now offering free Arabic classes in Limerick, after the initial offer from a Syrian refugee received unexpected demand in the city.

Hala Jaber, 29, a community musician and PhD student at the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance at the University of Limerick, will begin her free course in the Arabic language from this Wednesday, March 1, in Doras Luimni’s offices on O’Connell Street.

“I have had the chance to learn English and French, and now I’d like for people to have the opportunity to learn my language,” said Ms Jaber, who completed her undergraduate studies in music performance in Syria.

She said the enthusiasm amongst Irish people in signing up for the Arabic classes in Limerick “is a positive sign that people want to connect to other people who are coming here, and they’re seeing people as people, not as refugees. We’re just trying to make a connection.”

She completed her MA in community music in UL, and now also hosts weekly community music workshops for refugees and asylum seekers.

A Syrian refugee, Radwan Abouhajar, 40, began teaching Arabic to his first group of students in Limerick last Wednesday, to build friendships between Irish and multicultural communities.

He said he has been “taken aback” by the overwhelmingly positive response to his initiative. While just six people signed up for his first course in Portlaoise last year, nearly 50 people sought to sign up to the first free series of Arabic classes in Limerick.

The first class was capped at 12 students, and Doras Luimni, the local human rights group, is now hoping to offer a third course to meet a level of demand which they did not anticipate. 

It is the first time the group has offered Arabic classes, having been established 17 years ago.

“It’s brilliant news. We will have to find a bigger hall for everybody,” said Mr Abouhajar, who is due to be featured in an upcoming Would You Believe documentary on RTE focusing on Syrian refugees who have been resettled in Ireland.

Leonie Kerins, director of Doras Luimni, which supports all migrants living in the Mid-West, said they are “delighted” with the response they have received.

“There has been a huge amount of interest, and we are still getting emails enquiring about the course. We’re delighted this has had such a positive reaction.” 

Among those who have started the course is Zoe Lawlor, a lecturer at the University of Limerick, who has frequently travelled to Gaza as an active campaigner with the Limerick branch of the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

“We had a group of kids here from Gaza last summer and I regretted I wasn’t able to speak to them in their own language. It’s a lovely language, and I am very excited about speaking it,” she said.

Mr Abouhajar moved to Ireland three years ago with his wife, and his daughter, now aged six, while his second daughter, now aged 15 months, was born here. 

“The language classes are very basic – the alphabet, phrases, short conversation. But people want to know more about our culture, our history and our language. Irish people want to build friendships with us. The reception has been very warm here. It’s lovely. Everyone is so helpful.”

Forty-seven Syrian refugees were resettled in Limerick last year, and a further 25 people are due to arrive in the coming weeks.

Over 80 Syrian refugees are due to arrive to the county Roscommon town of Ballaghaderreen, and 54 were resettled in Portlaoise.

While there is no fee for the one and a half hour class, donations are welcome. To book contact Brian at b.vandamme@dorasluimni.org or call 061 310328.