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Charity launched to train refugees

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A Bermudian woman is preparing to set up a charity to train women refugees in the Middle East to become Montessori teachers.

Maha Turner, who has taught at Somersfield Academy for nearly 23 years, embarked on the venture to create Mission Montessori after a life-changing trip to Jordan.

Mrs Turner first visited Jordan last July hoping to use her skills to help Syrian refugees, but after her plans to work with an international aid agency fell through she used her own contacts to find a group of 11 Syrian refugee women.

She started training them to become Montessori teachers and provided materials and practical guidance to help them set up their own classroom for children between 3 and 6 in the basement of the apartment block.

Mrs Turner continues to train these students over the internet and visits them during the school holidays. They will graduate next year and become certified Montessori teachers.

“It has not been easy,” she said. “We have had setbacks, but we find a way through because I see that what I am doing gives these women hope and purpose.

“When your life has been devastated by forces outside of your control you have to believe there is a reason to keep going. My students are highly qualified and once had full lives with jobs and families.

“The war has taken that from them and they've been forced to flee to another country, often with just what they could carry. Many of my students are widows who have lost their husbands in the fighting, their stories are heartbreaking.

“My students want to share the Montessori education method with their own children and to help other refugee children access pre school.”

Since her first trip to Jordan, Mrs Turner has taken on a second group of 17 Syrian refugees living on the outskirts of Istanbul. And in February this year she started working with a third group of 13 trainees living in a refugee camp in southern Turkey, across the border from Aleppo.

“My dream is that we can ignite a Montessori movement across refugee communities,” Mrs Turner said. “Montessori method helps both the adults and the children to start the process of coming to terms with their lives as they now are.

“These women want to support themselves and their families. They want their children to be able to gain the benefits of an education.

“I want to start a Montessori Education Centre so the teachers I am training now will go on to start their own schools and train more women to become Montessori teachers, who in turn will help more young refugee children to flourish within the Montessori programme.”

To date Ms Turner has paid for the costs of travel, Montessori equipment and translation herself and the generous gifts of supporters. Tomorrow she will give a talk at Somersfield Academy about her work to set up a new charity in Bermuda that will serve refugee communities.

“This meeting is not about fundraising,” she says. “It's easy to get depressed when you see stories about Syria on the news.

“I simply want to share this positive story so that people can see that even in the most desperate circumstances the human spirit will prevail. Even for Syrians there is hope.”

The open meeting will start at 6pm in the school's common room.

Maha Turner and daughter Hasna in Amman, Jordan (Photograph supplied)
Making a difference: the adult refugee students with Maha Turner in Jordan and Turkey

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Published May 30, 2017 at 9:00 am (Updated May 30, 2017 at 12:36 am)

Charity launched to train refugees

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