Nick Bilbrough has helped hundreds of people, but more often than not they’ll never meet – instead they get to know each other via internet link across continents. His charity, The Hands Up Project, helps teach English to children in Palestine using volunteers, webcams and storytelling.
In Gaza where freedom of movement is limited and many children feel isolated, Bilbrough and his network of dozens of volunteers tune in to let Palestinian children share their rich culture and take an interest in those beyond their own, all while helping their English skills come on leaps and bounds.
In the late 1980s, Bilbrough left his Gloucestershire home for drama school in Denmark. He became interested in the power of storytelling and in language learning. He went on to specialise as a teacher of English as a foreign language, and spent time teaching all over the globe; Brazil, Chile, Japan. Now 50, he lives in Totnes, Devon with decades of training teachers under his belt. But he left it all behind when a bit of small-scale volunteering done from his living room grew into an international charity.
After a short trip to Palestine with the British Council where he led teacher training, Bilbrough wanted to contribute more to the schools he was welcomed into. “They’re learning English and they’ve got great teachers with a very high level of English,” he explains. “They are very creative and use lots of interesting activities in their classes, but they don’t have the opportunity to interact with people outside of their immediate context.”
Powerful remote theatre by students at Qabatia secondary girls school, Jenin, #OccupiedPalestine This is based on a real, tragic event which happened in the #Nakba of 1948. #learningthroughdramahttps://t.co/G3NOJ5tz3b
— The Hands Up Project (@HandsUpProject) July 17, 2019
When it started, Bilbrough was still working as a teacher trainer at Plymouth Marjon University. He got in touch with Gaza organisation Tamer Institute for Community Education and set up a video link once a week with a group of children in Beit Hanoun library. He told them stories in English, and soon the group grew. More children heard about it and wanted to come to the sessions; teachers in Gaza heard about it and requested something similar be set up with their schools.