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Classes bridge Persian gulf

IRANIAN families in the west of England have set up Farsi language classes to stop their children losing touch with their Persian roots.

English wives and husbands learn their Iranian partners' native language side-by-side with children as young as four at the weekend classes, run by the Khayam School in Bristol.

And the two men who have been the driving force in getting the school established see it as an essential first step towards fostering a community spirit among the 40 or so Iranian families in the area.

Abby Dashty, a 35-year-old information technology consultant, first suggested the idea of organising Farsi classes at the Persian New Year celebrations in March.

Since the only alternative was to send their children 150 miles to London to the nearest Farsi-language school, his proposal was taken up enthusiastically.

With the help of South Gloucestershire Council's community development unit, Abby and his friend Mehrdad Hosseini, raised funds and eventually found a teacher and a venue for the classes.

Around 20 people - six adults and 14 children of all ages - now attend the single two-hour class on Sunday afternoons.

"We have tried to make it fun - the children are in school from Monday to Friday, so we didn't want it to be too hard for them," said Abby.

The group contacted the existing school in London for advice. However, because it caters for the children of staff at the Iranian Embassy - whose children return to Iran for their education - they soon realised that their approach would have to be different if it were to satisfy the needs of adults wanting to learn in Bristol.

By bringing together so many people on a regular basis, the school is proving a useful tool for establishing community-feeling among the mainly Muslim Iranian people in the South-west, many of whom stayed on in the region after coming over from Iran to study.

To make the most of this, the organisers insist parents bringing children to the school remain in the building and socialise with each other while the class is going on.

"We are trying to promote the whole package - the culture as well as the language," said Abby.

Once the students have mastered the basics of the language, the school will focus on topics such as Iranian theatre and traditional festivities.

Next year, there are plans to give the organising group a formal identity - the Persian Cultural Association for the South-west - and to build on the success of the Khayam School by starting a Farsi-speaking playgroup.

Four-year-old Yasmin Hosseini is the youngest of the current group of students. Her mother, Sally, Mehrdad's English wife, studies alongside her daughter.

"I understand Farsi quite well, but my speaking is not so good, so that is where the classes will help," said Sally, a 33-year-old business analyst for Rolls-Royce.

"I enjoy them very much - it's all about promoting the language by working with the family."

Yasmin has not been confused by having to wrestle with the 32-character Farsi alphabet, Sally added, even though she is also currently learning her ABC at her primary school.

Nick Carter, South Gloucestershire Council's senior community development officer, congratulated the group on its achievement in setting up the school in just seven months.

"The school is already very successful and has the capacity to double in size over the coming months," he said.

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