A Welcoming Space for Learning

Blue Door English provides a lively environment for refugees and migrants to learn English in Malta.

Students are split into beginner, intermediate and advanced level classes, as well as literacy classes.
© Joanna Demarco

Four times a week, eager learners gather to improve their language skills and interact with each other at Blue Door English. Walking through the eponymous blue door under St. Andrew’s Scots Church in Valletta, where the English lessons take place, one can immediately hear the voices of enthusiastic teachers explaining some new word or phrase and the sound of students diligently practising their pronunciation or having conversations about all kinds of topics.

Blue Door English is a NGO associated with St. Andrew’s Church, which provides free English classes for refugees and migrants. On a busy day, they may have as many as five classes taking place simultaneously, with up to 80 students. There are five different levels, starting from basic literacy to pre-intermediate English. Students certainly feel the benefits of the classes, as they explained to UNHCR when we visited.

“What I like most about the class is that by learning, we know that eventually we will be more useful in society… Also in daily life, we can just talk to people.”

Ahmed, from Sudan

Apart from the valuable informal education being provided by Blue Door English, for many of their students it is also about feeling accepted and treated with respect and with dignity. Many have recently arrived in Malta after a difficult journey across the desert and sea, so having opportunities like these lessons helps them to integrate and focus on the future.

Kristina Abela, a volunteer teacher and the former coordinator of Blue Door English, emphasises the importance of ensuring a safe space where students can feel at home. “The school is different to others in that before all else, we keep in mind the challenging circumstances asylum-seekers and refugees are often dealing with. Rather than get them to try and fit into a system that we have created, we continue to adapt and recreate a system that suits their needs.”

“Before I came to Blue Door English, I didn’t really like Malta. But now, this is new salvation for me… Before in Sudan, I studied IT. I am not working in IT right now, but when I learn English, I hope I can work in this here in Malta.”

Shazali, from Sudan

Apart from the evening classes, a morning lesson includes childcare on the premises, catering specifically for women with young children. “This class is especially important, as migrant women are at risk of feeling alienated. After the women attend their class, they normally go for coffee and a bit of window shopping in Valletta, so the social aspect to the classes cannot be overlooked,” says Kristina.

BDE Women_s class 2 © UNHCR_Joanna Demarco

Classes for women take place two mornings a week, with childcare provided in a separate room. © UNHCR/Joanna Demarco

Justine and her students © UNHCR_Joanna Demarco

Teachers and assistant teachers cover reading, writing and speaking. © UNHCR/Joanna Demarco

BDE general class 2 © UNHCR_Joanna Demarco

© UNHCR/Joanna Demarco

BDE Women_s class 1 © UNHCR_Joanna Demarco

© UNHCR/Joanna Demarco


The NGO is volunteer-led, with around 20 volunteers in roles including teaching, childcare and administration.

Justine Lubnow, who became Blue Door English Programme Coordinator in 2019, echoes Kristina’s positivity in the experience she describes. “Volunteering here has opened my heart to bursting point. I have seen students transition from holding a pen for the first time in their lives to being able to read, write and converse within the space of six months. Wherever fate takes them in the future, they are now equipped with basic literacy skills, which will hopefully help them on their way. This is something which makes me immeasurably happy.”

A version of this article also appears in Building Communities, a UNHCR Malta magazine published in January 2020.