Skip to main content
Move the World.
Conversations with Refugees

Aline Sara is changing the conversation around what it means to be a refugee by talking — literally. Through her startup, NaTakallam (Arabic for "we talk"), Aline pairs refugees with people from other countries who want to learn their language. The "conversation partners" chat over Whatsapp or Skype to improve their Arabic or Spanish. But Aline says that people gain more than just language skills: it is foreign language tutoring with a serving of empathy on the side.

Aline Sara launched the startup, NaTakallam which pairs refugees with language learners as “conversation partners.” Photo courtesy of NaTakallam.

Aline Sara launched the startup, NaTakallam which pairs refugees with language learners as “conversation partners.” Photo courtesy of NaTakallam.

Refugees are people who were forced to leave their homes because they fear war, persecution, or other danger. Many can't find work outside their home country, so NaTakallam is one option for them. It provides a decent hourly wage for tutoring language students online. But these conversations are also helping others gain a new perspective on what it means to be a refugee.

Freethink talked with Aline about resistance, rewards, and what is next for NaTakallam.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Freethink: What kind of response have you received for NaTakallam?

Aline Sara: It's really human at the core. It's driven by real deep impacts and the friendships that are arising.

One of the refugees' laptop broke down, and he couldn't work anymore, and a student mailed him a laptop. We've had students who visit their tutors in Turkey, and in Brazil, and in Costa Rica.

The original idea was dignifying work and turning to refugees while meeting a need — easy, flexible, affordable language learning. But what's fascinating is that people are craving giving back, in a way that you can actually see the impact. You're not just donating to a charity that's going to send you a global report about their impact with photos of children.

The power of this is the one-on-one dynamic. When you're working with your tutor, and you're following their story, you're hearing how they're doing. So there's very human and powerful elements that are changing the narrative around refugees, bridging cultures.

Freethink: What is next? What is the next step for NaTakallam?

Aline Sara: We are growing. We're looking at adding languages. We want to continue bringing our programs in schools. A lot of our school programs relate to culture, and understanding the journey of displacement, not just the language. We really build global active citizens, a globally aware generation.

We want to continue to grow our clients. We've worked with private sector clients, we work with NGOs. There's a lot of companies that are taking on the refugee cause and are supporting refugees and hiring them. Some of them are working with us, to hire us for translation services, for example, but also for their staff language learning needs.

So we plan to just keep growing — to continue to change the narrative around these refugees, continue to bring them livelihood access, and continue to grow the idea that everyone is human, and everyone has something to offer.

Freethink: Can you tell me about a significant moment when you were launching NaTakallam when you knew you were on the right path?

Aline Sara: Being an entrepreneur, and above all, being a social entrepreneur, where you're constantly struggling with "how do I bring the revenue in, while also making sure I'm making an impact, and that my impact is deep and authentic and legitimate?" — it's a forever battle.

We would get small examples of setbacks, but also moments of great positive feedback. When you have just a single person tell you that we are the reason they survived, or that we saved their life. When you have a student say that working and taking language classes with their tutor, who happens to be a refugee, has brought them more knowledge and understanding of what it is to be displaced than working for the UN refugee agency or studying the refugee crisis in class.

These are small rewarding things.

Up Next

Art
Stunning “Agar Art” Grows Pictures with Bacteria and Fungi
agar art
Art
Stunning “Agar Art” Grows Pictures with Bacteria and Fungi
Agar art lets scientists tap into their creative sides by growing microbes into beautiful bioart scenes in petri dishes.

Agar art lets scientists tap into their creative sides by growing microbes into beautiful bioart scenes in petri dishes.

Accessibility
Blind YouTuber Shows Tech Industry How to Be More Inclusive
assistive technology
Accessibility
Blind YouTuber Shows Tech Industry How to Be More Inclusive
Visually impaired YouTuber Kristy Viers has created a channel where she demonstrates the assistive technology features on her devices.

Visually impaired YouTuber Kristy Viers has created a channel where she demonstrates the assistive technology features on her devices.

Thinking Differently
Angels of Debt
Angels of Debt
Watch Now
Thinking Differently
Angels of Debt
These ex-bill collectors got John Oliver's attention and started a movement. They're buying hundreds of millions of dollars worth of strangers' medical debt and erasing it.
Watch Now

The average American is one medical accident away from being destroyed financially. These bill collectors woke up to the brutality of their industry - and are using their insider knowledge to save strangers from hundreds of millions of dollars in debt. Jerry Ashton was a debt collector working on Wall Street when the Occupy Wall Street movement started. He became interested, and eventually partnered with them and his friend...

#fixingjustice - Re-entry
The Ride Home from Prison
The Ride Home from Prison
#fixingjustice - Re-entry
The Ride Home from Prison
The "Ride Home Program" sends drivers to pick up former inmates on their first day of freedom to help ensure a...

The "Ride Home Program" sends drivers to pick up former inmates on their first day of freedom to help ensure a smooth transition in those first few critical hours.

#fixingjustice - Policing
Community Policing is Back in Vogue. But Does it Work?
Community Policing is Back in Vogue. But Does it Work?
#fixingjustice - Policing
Community Policing is Back in Vogue. But Does it Work?
As police departments look for ways to rebuild trust with their communities, an increasing number are turning to...
By Natalia Megas

As police departments look for ways to rebuild trust with their communities, an increasing number are turning to new community policing programs. But are they effective? As with most things, it depends on what you measure.

Relentless
This Fearless Principal Used UFC & Skateboards to Save a Failing School
This Fearless Principal Used UFC & Skateboards to Save a Failing School
Watch Now
Relentless
This Fearless Principal Used UFC & Skateboards to Save a Failing School
How one relentless, unconventional principal rallied an underdog school.
Watch Now

Hamish Brewer, the unconventional principal of Fred Lynn Middle School, went viral and won praise for his work turning the school around. But can he rally the school to the next huge milestone - regaining accreditation? Since moving from New Zealand to the United States, tattooed, skateboarding principal Hamish Brewer has helped inspire teachers and students at lower-income schools to smash people’s expectations. After his...

Dispatches
How a Video Game Helped the Cajun Navy Save Lives
How a Video Game Helped the Cajun Navy Save Lives
Dispatches
How a Video Game Helped the Cajun Navy Save Lives
When lives are on the line, inspiration can come from the most unlikely places.
By Brandon Stewart

When lives are on the line, inspiration can come from the most unlikely places.