TEACHERS Beth Owen, Thomas Samuel and Siân Morgans are currently championing the Welsh language nearly 8,000 miles from home – in the Patagonian province of Argentina.
They are there through the British Council’s Welsh Language Project, and for the last few months have been teaching at Welsh medium schools in Trevelin, Gaiman and Trelew in the Chubut province.
Set up in 1997, the programme aims to help promote and develop the Welsh language across the region – which currently has over 6000 Welsh speakers. Every year, the British Council sends three language development officers to develop the language in the Welsh speaking communities through both formal teaching and informal social activities.
The language evolved in Argentina over 150 years ago, when a group of Welsh pioneers travelled across the Atlantic Ocean, creating a permanent settlement in the Chubut Valley in 1865. Now, there are around 50,000 Patagonians of Welsh descent.
Beth, Originally from Lannerch-y-medd in Anglesey, is currently on secondment from Citizens Advice, where she works as a Welsh Language Officer and also Learn Welsh, where she is a Welsh tutor for adults. For the last few months, she has been teaching at the Ysgol y Cwm School in Trevelin.
Speaking about the programme, she said: “My career so far has been focused on the Welsh Language and its promotion, so I was keen to take on a new challenge, and The Welsh Language Project was an exciting opportunity – a dream come true! I wanted to be part of the increase in Welsh speakers – and to see the programmes vision become a reality, as well as inspire young and old generations.
“The main difference between teaching here is the shortage of equipment, teaching aids and technology. My lack of Spanish is also a big challenge; however, this does mean that the children have to make more of an effort to speak Welsh with me which means that their Welsh communication skills are strengthened.
“I’m looking forward to returning to Wales and visiting local schools and societies to show them the amazing work they do here in the Andes. I am also now more aware of the Welsh Society and School needs here and can advocate for them. I’ve taken advantage of every opportunity here and can say that it’s been a true pleasure to be part of the programme this year.”
For Primary School teacher Siân, who is originally from Carmarthen, teaching in Patagonia is very similar to teaching in Wales. She currently teaches Year 5 and 6 primary pupils at Ysgol Gymraeg Y Gaiman in the small town of Gaim, and hosts morning sessions at Ysgol yr Hendre, a primary school in Trelew. For the Spanish medium secondary school, Coleg Camwy, she runs Welsh lessons for school staff.
She said: “The role is very similar to teaching in Wales because I use Welsh language immersion methods with songs, Welsh language tools and visual resources. Of course, it is a completely different experience when teaching, with peer conversations flowing between Welsh and Spanish. It is an amazing experience to see pupils making an effort and being proud of their bilingualism.
“I am very lucky to have the opportunity to teach here in Patagonia. I have met passionate people and experienced living and working in a country with different arrangements and cultures that see the importance of education and being bilingual. I am looking forward to sharing my experiences, stories and contacts back in my teaching position in Wales but before that I will continue traveling and hopefully see a little more of the world.”
Meanwhile Thomas, from Blaengarw in South Wales, is a Welsh tutor and translator. He mainly works at the secondary school, Coleg Camwy in Gaiman.
He said: “From a young age I have been interested in the Welsh connection with Patagonia. When I applied to the programme, I was looking for a new challenge as we were coming out of the pandemic and as soon as I saw that they were advertising the positions in Patagonia, I knew I had to apply.
“During my time here, getting to experience Eisteddfod Chubut in Trelew was an amazing experience – many different people came together to perform and celebrate Welsh culture. It was similar to the Eisteddfod in Wales in many ways in terms of the competitions but with a strong Argentinean cultural connection. There was also a Noson Lawen where different people were performing, and it was lovely to see people enjoying Welsh and Argentinean songs and singing together.”
The British Council is now offering the opportunity for three more teachers to promote the language in Patagonia from March to December in 2023.
Speaking about the programme Rebecca Gould, Acting Director, British Council Wales, said: “The work of the Welsh Language Project ensures that there is a long-term future for the Welsh language in Patagonia. We would encourage anyone with a passion for teaching Welsh to apply, as not only does the programme continue to strengthen the relationship between Wales and Patagonia, but it provides life-changing opportunities for those who participate in it.”
The closing date for applications for the 2023 posts is Friday, 30 December 2022. To find out more information and to apply, visit: https://wales.britishcouncil.org/en/programmes/education/welsh-language-project
The Welsh Language Project continues the British Council’s work, building connection, understanding and trust between people in the UK and overseas through arts, education and language teaching. To find out more about the British Council’s work in Wales visit https://wales.britishcouncil.org/ or follow on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.