A Spaniard uses his garage as a language school for migrants
Isabel Florido and Tito Martin give Spanish lessons to a group of Senegalese migrants arriving on the island by boat, in Las Palmas on the island of Gran Canaria, Spain, July 21, 2021. Reuters / Borja Suarez
LAS PALMAS DE GRAN CANARIA: As authorities in Spain’s Canary Islands struggle to cope with a surge in the number of undocumented migrants arriving on their shores, a local man has turned his garage into a classroom to teach Spanish to newcomers.
Between January and mid-July, 7,260 people landed in the Canary Islands in the Atlantic after having made the perilous voyage at sea, against 2,800 at the same period last year, according to the Spanish Ministry of the Interior.
Authorities attribute the increase to the impact of COVID-19 on tourism and other industries in North and sub-Saharan Africa, causing many more to leave their homes in search of a better life in Europe.
Tito Martin, who lives in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, was inspired to start his makeshift language school after noticing that there were not enough resources for the growing number of migrant arrivals.
“I thought it was time to stop just agreeing with the news and comments about the (migrant) situation and decided to take action,” he said.
With arrival facilities in the area bursting at the seams, authorities have sheltered thousands of people in camps where conditions have been criticized by rights groups.
In Martin’s garage, among his van, bikes and surfboard, a group of young men seated at wooden desks diligently write their Spanish alphabet and ring the letters.
“I want to learn Spanish. Before living in Senegal, I had never gone to school, I could not read,” said Mar Low, 25, who arrived in the Canaries eight months ago and who is now taking Spanish lessons. three times per week.
Low spent 14 days at sea, five of them without food or water, before his boat was recovered by a Spanish rescue vessel. “If they hadn’t helped us we would all be dead for sure,” he said.
Isabel Florido, a local French and English teacher, contacted Martin when she heard about her project and is now part of a group of volunteers who teach Spanish.
âI am a conscious person, aware of what is going on around me and the reality isâ¦ my island is suffering right now, I care,â she said.
Marin offers migrants a safe haven – a place where they can shower, grab a bite to eat and learn Spanish.
“What I got above all from the boys was gratitude, despite their desperate situation,” he said.