“I decided to act”

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As authorities in Spain’s Canary Islands struggle to cope with a surge in the number of undocumented migrants arriving on its shores, a local man has turned his garage into a classroom to teach Spanish on arrivals. Between January and mid-July, 7,260 people landed on the Canary Islands in the Atlantic after making the perilous journey at sea, compared to 2,800 in the same period last year, according to the Spanish Interior Ministry.

Authorities attribute the increase to the impact of COVID-19 on tourism and other industries in North and sub-Saharan Africa, pushing many more to leave their homes in search of a better life in Europe.

Tito Martin, who lives in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, was inspired to start his makeshift language school after noticing that there were not enough resources for the growing number of migrant arrivals.

“I thought it was time to stop just agreeing with the news and comments about the situation (of migrants) and decided to act,” he said.

With arrival facilities in the area packed, authorities have housed thousands of people in camps where conditions have been criticized by rights groups.

In Martin’s garage, among his van, bikes and surfboard, a group of young men seated at wooden desks are diligently writing down their Spanish alphabet and sounding out the letters.

“I want to learn Spanish. Before living in Senegal, I had never been to school, I could not read,” said Mar Low, 25, who arrived in the Canary Islands eight months ago and who now takes Spanish classes three times a week.

Low spent 14 days at sea, five of them without food or water, before his boat was picked up by a Spanish salvage vessel. “If they hadn’t helped us, we would all be dead for sure,” he said.

Isabel Florido, a local French and English teacher, contacted Martin when she heard about his plan and is now part of a group of volunteers teaching Spanish.

“I’m a conscious person, aware of what’s going on around me and the reality is…my island is hurting right now, I care,” she said.

Marin offers migrants a safe haven – a place where they can shower, grab a bite to eat and learn Spanish.

“What I received above all from the boys was gratitude, despite their desperate situation,” he said.

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