Around 40 teenagers affected by the Italian earthquake disaster enjoyed free English lessons this summer.
English UK member schools offered free tuition after an appeal for help by the Italian Embassy in London. Some schools also provided free accommodation, as did Italian families living in Britain.
The earthquake in the Abruzzo region of Italy in April killed 307 people. Aftershocks continued until July.
But one language school and its local residents were amazingly generous. Northumbria School of English in Whitley Bay near Newcastle offered tuition and accommodation to 17 sixteen-year-olds from one school.
Principal Christine Goodwin heard about the problems in Abruzzo first-hand from a friend. Her language centre is newly-accredited and therefore not fully booked. So she had space to have 17 teenagers to stay.
"It was one of those 'big gob' moments where you just open your mouth, offer to do something and think about it afterwards," she said.
Ms Goodwin contacted lots of local attractions who generously offered lots of free transport and entertainment for the Italian children. But then she realised how much it would cost to feed them for the two weeks.
Christine and a local embassy official started by contacting local Italian restaurant owners to see if they could offer food or meals. The local newspaper wrote about her problem. And then help started arriving.
A supermarket provided free milk and breakfast foods. The local bakery gave bread free every day. And a huge box of pasta arrived from a restaurant. "It was just amazing. The whole community helped," said Christine.
And she has no regrets about her offer. "We all really enjoyed it. All of us who were involved were quite humbled by the whole experience of it. The cost didn’t matter. What mattered was getting those boys out of the conditions they were living in for a bit. It made a difference to their lives, and to the community, and that’s amazing."
She adds: "The boys were absolutely wonderful. Most of them didn’t want to talk about what they’d been through. But you could see their experiences had changed them."
Comments left by the students show what a good time they had. "The best days of my life! THANKSSSSSS!", wrote Alessandro.
"Grazie. Thank you for this wonderful holiday," wrote Beatrice.
Other Abruzzo teenagers also loved their time in the UK. "This experience here... was the best journey of my life and it’s even better after the disaster of the earthquake of 6th April that destroyed my city.
"I would like to thanks everybody who made this opportunity possible and I hope to come back and see you again next year," said Luigi Russo, who spent two weeks at St Clare’s in Oxford.
He added: "The thing I liked most about St. Clare’s, however, was the other students. They came from all over the world and it was beautiful to talk to them in only one language, English.
"I made a lot of friends with people who live very far from Italy."
Another student, Colantoni Eleonora , loved her time at Wimbledon School of English. She said: "To be able to sleep in a bed, under a true roof and a house and to have under the feet a earth that did not shake has been a fantastic thing; even better that the earth is in London."
Participating schools were:
Italian students at Northumbria School of English enjoy rooftop football and surfing
By Susan Young (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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