Bem-Vindos!: Portuguese for Immigrants and Refugees at Graded


Bem-Vindos! is a teacher and student initiative at Graded that aims to teach immigrants and refugees how to speak Portuguese, and help them integrate into Brazilian society. It promotes cultural exchange between both the Graded members, students, teachers and parents who take part in the club, and the arriving immigrants from various parts of the world: Venezuela, Taiwan, Singapore, Haiti, and Syria. Both The Talon and Bem-Vindos! hope to encourage more Graded students to take part in this initiative.

The club meets every Tuesday and Thursday from 4:15 to 5:45. The classes are guided by a Portuguese teacher and by two or more students. As a basis for their teaching, a Portuguese textbook is used – it also contains worksheets for students to do homework. The purpose of having Graded students in addition to teachers is to form a greater connection between culture and language between them and between the immigrants. Members of this club have the opportunity to help them, not only learn Portuguese but better understand Brazilian culture. 

The club began when a group of Portuguese teachers came up with the project and began promoting the classes in August 2017. At the same time, Alexandre Jabor and Bianca Auriemo, two students from Graded’s class of 2019, had already started to promote the theme of “Refuge” at Graded. With the help of Maya Wainstein – a current senior – who dreamt of the opportunity to work with refugees. Thus, they approached the teachers as soon as they heard about the initiative. When talking to Maya about Bem-Vindos, she told us, “For me, this project has a very personal meaning because my family came to Brazil as refugees. It has been one of the most impactful experiences in my life because I met many interesting people and learned how to organize myself by working in a group. The experiences you share with the refugees coming in are something you can’t learn in a classroom because you really build a connection with them. Also, Graded is really international and I believe it is part of our community’s identity to help integrate people who don’t know our culture and our language.”

The planning period began. Every Friday the group of students and faculty members met to discuss and organize the start of  Bem-Vindos! Shortly after, an NGO contacted the Brazilian teachers involved and their director at Graded, mentioning there was a Haitian refugee in need of Portuguese class. After that, the newly formed ‘Bem-Vindos’ group began outlining the course that would teach them Portuguese and something more than just language acquisition.

In 2018, the school officialized the club. When classes began, Bem-Vindos! only had six immigrant students, now there are 16 immigrants and refugees enrolled. As time passed the project grew significantly and now the club has XX students. Today, the club is led by two student leaders Maya Wainstein and Paula Fernandez are composed of: Graded students, Graded teachers, teachers from outside school, and Graded parents. 

Prior to teaching, Graded students and volunteers are trained to lead and prepare classes supervised by a Portuguese teacher. The classes are based on a Portuguese book from which students and teachers prepare classes and teach the immigrants. Each week one teacher and two students are responsible for the class and the rest of the volunteers are there to offer support. Especially since not all students have the same level of understanding of Portuguese, therefore different students require different ranges of assistance. Furthermore, sometimes their nationalities may be an extra barrier that intervenes in their ability to comprehend certain aspects of the Portuguese language. Therefore, volunteers work to create a positive learning environment and helping by answering questions students have about the Portuguese language and the Brazilian culture. In addition, a speech therapist volunteers frequently, helping them with pronunciation. Additionally, teachers use games to push students out of their comfort zones and help them practice their Portuguese. Lastly, another way students and volunteers interact is through cultural exchange, where both parties share stories of their own tradition. 

This initiative has many benefits and has impacted the lives of many immigrants and refugees. According to Rosana, one of the Portuguese teacher leaders of Bem-Vindos! “the purpose of the project is to give immigrants the opportunity to feel welcome during their arrivals and efforts to adapt to Brazil. With this aim in mind, the language classes are focused on creating a connection between the immigrants and Brazilian culture. Learning Portuguese can lead to job opportunities, which is also a high priority for immigrants.”