La Fourmilière joined Gymglish’s Social Impact program in July 2020. The organization is an inspiring venture that aims to make volunteer work “fun, accessible and spontaneous.”
Clément Debosque, one of the organization’s founders, reflects upon the organization’s past and explains how the COVID-19 pandemic has digitized volunteer work.
Hello Clément! Could you tell us more about La Fourmilière’s early years?
La Fourmilière emerged from a meeting with fellow volunteers in a Filipino organization in 2016. I had met several French people while there, and we were brainstorming on the concept of volunteer work. We wanted to find a way to continue giving back to the community in spite of our busy schedules. When we got back from our trip, we set up a online group designed to make finding volunteer opportunities as easy as catching up with friends.
Since 2016, we have been offering one-off and long-term volunteer work opportunities for and to benefit vulnerable populations (seniors, newly arrived asylum seekers, homeless people, etc). To do this, we set up an online calendar in which everybody can put their name down and start a meaningful volunteer project.
Our French course was a resounding success for the newly arrived asylum seekers we work with; good command of the French language is a major integration boost. We started our adventure with five teachers and ten students. Days before the first COVID-19 lockdown, there were more than a hundred of us!
But because of the COVID-19 pandemic, you’ve had to adapt…
Indeed, we immediately had to stop on-site lessons and set up digital tools to offset the growing demand for language courses. We had to adapt as best we could: how could we make a difference without putting lives in danger and leaving our homes?
We found our answer thanks to a social media platform which allowed us to set up a virtual group to create networking opportunities between teachers and students. At the time, we had over 1,200 teachers for 2,400 learners – but demand continued to grow.
…which is when Gymglish’s online courses came into the picture?
Exactly. We wanted our beneficiaries to have daily contact with the French language (Frantastique) all whilst providing them with an innovative, flexible and mobile learning method. Sadly, our volunteer teachers have very little time to spend with our learners, and we want them to be able to progress in language learning during these difficult times. We are very happy with this method: as a matter of fact, many of them have shown a strong participation rate.
The main benefit of Gymglish lessons is that they are easy to complete. Learners don’t need login details, passwords, or even a computer. La Fourmilière’s job is to provide them with licenses (subscriptions to the course). Learners begin their training and receive a personalized lesson via email for a minimum of six months. To sum it up, the lessons are easy to set up and end up straight in the learner’s inbox!
What challenges lie ahead for La Fourmilière?
One of our main challenges will be explaining the value of our organization to major French cities, and creating more diverse volunteer work opportunities for our communities.
We hope to help integrate newly arrived asylum seekers through our volunteer work, so that they are able to assimilate sooner: meet with locals, speak in French and fit into French society.
We have already established this initiative in Paris. More than 300 newly-arrived asylum seekers that benefitted from our projects such as zen farming, soup runs, and zero-waste initiatives in French supermarkets are now themselves volunteering to help their peers.
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