This Language Startup Connects Arabic Students With Syrian Refugees

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An innovative new startup is pairing eager Arabic students with Syrian refugees in Lebanon to bring a unique, humanitarian approach to online language learning.

Arabic calligraphy

An innovative new startup is pairing eager Arabic students with Syrian refugees in Lebanon to bring a unique, humanitarian approach to online language learning.

The social venture is the brainchild of three Columbia University graduates and designed to employ Syrian refugees as “conversation partners” with Arabic students.

Out of the more than 4 million Syrian refugees worldwide, almost 1.2 million of them are living in Lebanon. Yet legally refugees are not allowed to work full-time in the country barring them from many available jobs. Refugees often have to resort to dangerous and exploitative work because of the restrictions.

"People with degrees are stuck with few opportunities," Aline Sara, one of the founders of NaTakallam, said in an interview with Mashable.

“There’s this whole group of middle-class Syrians who were really on their way to completing their degrees — who might have had small businesses — a whole group of people that are also really in need of support,” Sara told the WorldPost.

Yet the program isn’t just meant to provide “charity,” but rather give refugees an outlet to share their struggles and experiences with the Western community.

"They are lawyers, architects and students who weren't able to finish degrees," she told Mashable. "They have their lives ahead of them and they don't want to be portrayed as helpless people. This gives them exposure."

Syrian refugee woman

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In addition to helping refugees, the startup gives students a chance to learn “'Ammiyyah,’ the local dialect and primary spoken form of Arabic in a given region” instead of just being exposed to the classical form of Arabic taught in academic settings.

Students feel encouraged to donate money to the cause not only for the rare cultural experience but also to provide support to a global issue they feel powerless in solving.

"They're devastated by the war in Syria," Sara told Mashable. "They feel there's so much horror and there's nothing they can do about it, so this is their way to help."

The startup also employs refugees residing in France, Turkey and Egypt and hopes to expand to Germany and Sweden as well.

Their mission may have just a small role to play in the refugee crisis, but the connections this startup inevitably will make allows refugees to tell their story — and maybe for Westerners to truly understand.

Read more: Turkish Couple Skip Wedding Buffet, Feed 4,000 Syrian Refugees Instead

Banner photo credit: Reuters

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