Living in isolation in the least habitable part of the Sahara Desert proves no match for the Saharawi people’s ability to connect with the world at large. One might believe, seeing a group of people who still enthusiastically embrace their historical traditions, dress and values, that they would have no interest in what is going on outside their society. But in the case of the Saharawi, that assumption could not be further from the truth. One way in which they invest much time and energy into being able to connect with the rest of the world is by diligently studying English.
Several of the Saharawi refugee camps have adult-level English programs, and each year tens of graduates celebrate the four-plus years they poured into learning this foreign language while balancing their other work and family responsibilities. As each person’s story is different, Saharawi people have various personal reasons for studying English, but some themes exist that unite their motivations and highlight deeper shared desires.
Many months into the COVID world-shutdown, English students in the refugee camps have been without their classes for a long time – some since March. Yet when I recently asked a handful of students why they study English, the reasons resembled responses I’ve heard before, and the enthusiasm has not died away with time. Among these responses a theme arose – connection. Students stressed the idea that English is the language of the world, and that they desire both to share of themselves with people in every place, and to learn about others. While relegated to one of the most isolated places on Earth, these people want anything but isolation. They will not be left out of the world’s inter-connected functioning, and rightly so. The Saharawi people have so much to offer the world community, and even though they’ve been robbed of their homeland from which to connect to wider humanity, they will not be stopped.
Post By: Heather Jost, September 5th, 2020