Practising English with students at Thom Collegiate's Community Coffee House

Since April of 2015 Thom Collegiate has hosted a Coffee House each Wednesday night. The event offers new Canadians a chance to meet people in the community and practice or learn English.

People from across the community of all language abilities are welcome to attend

Dana Ibrahim likes to come to the coffeehouse because she gets to work with and teach children. (Alec Salloum/CBC Saskatchewan)

Every Wednesday after class on the second floor of Thom Collegiate, the cafeteria fills up with a different kind of student.

A Community Coffee House started last year in April after student councilor Claudine Neetz and volunteer Duncan Braun started talking about ways to accommodate incoming Syrian refugees.

During the 2015-2016 scholastic year Thom had its first English as an Additional Language (EAL) program. After Neetz noticed that many of the students were translating and helping their parents learn the language, she and Braun created a program entire families could take advantage of.

"It's a great experience to visit and get to know people," said Neetz. "I would love to see more people out. I want it to grow."

Students volunteer for the program, like grade 12 student Dana Ibrahim.

Since the program resumed this year she has been taking time to help young kids learn English. Ibrahim wants to be a pediatrician, and likes to see what simply teaching or helping someone can do for them.

"It feels good to see people happy because you`ve taught them," she said. However, she noticed the kids pick up on it more readily.

Duncan Braun shows Ibrahim Seefan the basics of playing the violin. (Alec Salloum/CBC Saskatchewan)

"They get the language easier than bigger people," said Ibrahim.

With her family coming from Egypt she understands how much of a barrier language can be to recent immigrants.

"It`s hard if you don`t know the language. It`s so hard to do simple things," she said. "You can't do simple stuff like, buying something from a shopping mall. So if (someone) needs medicine or something, and you can`t speak to the pharmacist there, or explain what you need."

As such, the Coffee House offers parents, students and their younger siblings a chance to come to a space where they can learn.

People like Zayed Al-Rabai, who came to Regina by way of a refugee camp in Jordan after fleeing Syria. "I had been living there for two years and eight months," said  Al-Rabai, on his time in Zaatari, a Jordanian refugee camp. 

For him the Coffee House is a chance to meet people and practice his English skills, which he says is his number one priority. "I want to improve on my language, to arrive to level that makes me a good person in this community," 

"It can be so useful, you can learn simple new words and add new words to your dictionary," said Ibrahim.

On the second night of this semester's Coffee House three men from Syria and a man fom Mexico were in attendance. A game of Jenga was played with questions written on each block, in English and in Arabic.

`It`s so amazing how different cultures can meet and sit down at the same table. It`s amazing," said Ibrahim.

Jayson Benjoe, a grade 11 student came to the Coffee House for that reason.

"I was the first one to volunteer, because I thought it`d be a cool idea to meet people from different countries," said Benjoe.

Last year when the program started out he learned some languages and met people from China, Thailand and Pakistan. "And Mexico of course. I know Temo over there," he said gesturing to Cuauhtemoc 'Temo' Trujano and laughing. "He`s a nice man."

Trujano has been coming to the Thom Coffee House since the program started. "English is my second language," explains Trujano. "I'm trying to improve it, and I think one of the best ways is just to meet with other people who are trying to learn too." 

Of course, with the students, everyone who comes to the Coffee House has a willing partner to practice with. 

Neetz described Benjoe as her "go-to guy" to get people interested in volunteering. Benjoe had to put 25 students looking to volunteer on hold while the program grows.

"When it gets bigger in the future we`ll have more students helping," said Benjoe, who went on to breakdown exactly how many students will be working with different age groups. 

He says many students say they want to join because it does count for class credit, but he chooses not to believe that. "I just come here for fun, just to learn a lot of stuff. It gets my day up too," he said.

"I met a new friend tonight, he comes to Thom now."