Joseff Gnagbo and Marc Edwards, co-teachers of the Welsh class at Oasis

Croeso i Oasis: New Welsh lessons are being offered at city’s refugee centre

The lessons will help refugees and asylum seekers learn more about Welsh culture

JOSEFF Gnagbo, an asylum seeker who became fluent in Welsh in a year, has helped launch a Welsh language class at the refugee centre Oasis.

Mr Gnagbo, from the Ivory Coast, was a client at Oasis when he first came to Wales in February 2018. It is where he started learning Welsh.

He said that he has a principle to learn the language of every country he has lived in. This includes learning Arabic in Morocco and Swahili in Kenya, places he lived after fleeing the Ivory Coast because of a rebellion.

He won the Welsh Beginner Award in 2020 and in October he was elected Chair of Cymdeithas yr iaith gymraeg, the Welsh Language Society. He said that he was the first person from a non-traditional background to be elected to the role. He is the first person not born in Wales and the first person of colour to lead the society. 

Discussing why he has started these classes, Mr Gnagbo – whose first language is French – said: “I’ve learnt, now let me have a chance to teach refugees and asylum seekers.”

He added: “I think it is important [to learn Welsh] because it is a powerful tool, it helps you integrate.”

The first lesson covered the alphabet, numbers, introducing yourself and asking how someone is.

Joseff Gnagbo teaching the Welsh class at Oasis

Hlehle, a South African client at Oasis, said: “[I am learning] because I’m in Wales and I love languages, I come from a country where people speak different languages.” South Africa has 11 official languages and she said there were some similarities in pronunciation between Welsh and Afrikaans and Xhosa.

Alice, a volunteer teaching assistant, said: “I’ve lived here since 1995, from England, and I’ve thought about learning Welsh numerous times. Since coming to Oasis and meeting all these people learning Welsh and English it has inspired me.”

They both enjoyed the class. Hlehle said: “It was nice, I’m looking forward to it,” and Alice said: “It’s really good.”

The Welsh class joins the 40 English classes run at Oasis every week. On the value of the class, Norman Gettings, who is Oasis’ outreach lead, said: “We’re aware of the importance of all kinds of organisations being bilingual.”

Mr Gnagbo will be running the classes with volunteer Marc Edwards and they are open to all clients, volunteers and staff at the centre. The 1.30pm classes will run every Wednesday until 13 December. 

They also have a Welsh word of the week at Oasis