'I wish for a classroom': Community plans for Arabic language centre
Classes of 100 students are currently held at the small mosque on Lincoln Road
The Arab community in Fredericton is working to open an Arabic language learning centre in the coming years.
"The Arab community here is missing real culture or school or any kind of schooling that can preserve their language in general, especially the newcomers," said Abdel Ghafour Fahim, a local businessman.
The centre would be a resource for anyone wanting to learn Arabic, Fahim said, even if it's not their first language, and could also offer religious studies and Qur'an lessons, much like a Sunday school.
A group of community leaders successfully became a registered not-for-profit organization two weeks ago.
After celebrating with a potluck at Greener Village, the Arabic Culture Centre is getting to work to figure out a venue and fundraising.
A crowded mosque
Reema Aldeeb taught Arabic for years in Syria and Egypt before she moved to Fredericton as a refugee 10 months ago. She said it only took her three months in Canada to begin teaching children here the fundamentals of Arabic.
"It is my dream to teach people Arabic," she said in Arabic. "It's very important for me."
Every Saturday and Sunday she supervises a group of 80 to 100 kids, split into groups of 20 and learning different levels of Arabic or studying the Qur'an.
On another day, around 20 children gather in one room at the Cultural Centre on Saunders street for Arabic lessons.
About 50 families make up the city's Arab community, and Aldeeb said the space at the small church-turned-mosque on Lincoln Road is challenging.
"We run out of space, there are so many children in one room. ... It's also a big liability."
Children coming from refugee camps may have missed many years of school, said Aldeeb, and while they catch up on their school subjects in English, their Arabic may fade rapidly.
"I teach some children who know the alphabets and that's it. ... Some can't form sentences or even phrases."
Aldeeb teaches kids from six years old to 12, but she hopes that one day she can give complex Arabic lessons to older teens or young adults.
She also hopes someday she doesn't have to spend every one of her weekends and other free time teaching without compensation.
"I wish that when I make teaching tools for the children someone can help me with supplies," she said. "It costs me. It's my dream to teach them, but I don't have the funds to spend on it myself. I wish for a classroom."
All of Othman Shikhou's five children take the classes at the mosque. He said he appreciates the work the volunteers do to make it possible, but he admits it's not ideal.
"We're having a lot of difficulty with the students and teachers all huddled in the [mosque]," he said in Arabic. "It's confusing for all to be in that open space."
For Shikhou, it's important his children are able to keep using their Arabic language alongside English and even French if they can.
But it's also important to share language and culture with born Canadians, he said.
"I want this to be a bridge between us, to integrate Arabic culture with Canadian culture," he said. "We're dependant on all nationalities, all religions, whether Arab or Muslim or not."
Fahim said the Arabic Culture Centre will go public, apply for government grants if they can and look for a venue.
"To get a kind of compensation for sure, or funds to compensate our teachers — that's definitely something to look at," he said.