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

Stories of Resilience
COVID’s Unique Challenge For the Navajo Nation
navajo nation
Stories of Resilience
COVID’s Unique Challenge For the Navajo Nation
With a lack of access to running water and other resources, the Navajo Nation faces a tough challenge in COVID-19. But the Diné are fighting back.

With a lack of access to running water and other resources, the Navajo Nation faces a tough challenge in COVID-19. But the Diné are fighting back.

Hong Kong Protests
Inside Hong Kong's "Resistance Economy"
hong kong protest update
Hong Kong Protests
Inside Hong Kong's "Resistance Economy"
Hong Kong pro-democracy supporters are using protest strategies that go beyond the street, which may be crucial as police enforce social distancing.
By Tien Nguyen

Hong Kong pro-democracy supporters are using protest strategies that go beyond the street, which may be crucial as police enforce social distancing.

Censorship
Minecraft Players Built a Massive Library for Censored News
censorship
Censorship
Minecraft Players Built a Massive Library for Censored News
Minecrafts’s Uncensored Library is exploiting a loophole in surveillance technology to sneak the news past government censorship.

Minecrafts’s Uncensored Library is exploiting a loophole in surveillance technology to sneak the news past government censorship.

Year in Review
Freethink's Favorite Behind the Scenes Insights from 2019
Freethink's Favorite Behind the Scenes Insights from 2019
Year in Review
Freethink's Favorite Behind the Scenes Insights from 2019
Join Freethink's directors behind the scenes to discover the experiences and insights that went into creating some of our favorite videos from 2019.

Join Freethink's directors behind the scenes to discover the experiences and insights that went into creating some of our favorite videos from 2019.

Future of Fertility
Breaking the Taboo of Male Infertility
Breaking the Taboo of Male Infertility
Future of Fertility
Breaking the Taboo of Male Infertility
Male infertility contributes to up to half of infertility cases. Why is it so hard to talk about?

Male infertility contributes to up to half of infertility cases. Why is it so hard to talk about?

Catalysts
A School Made for Homeless Children
A School Made for Homeless Children
Watch Now
Catalysts
A School Made for Homeless Children
When a child faces chaos at home, it's impossible to learn. This school is doing whatever it takes to help homeless students and their families create better lives.
Watch Now

When you think of homelessness, you typically don't picture homeless children. However, every year, approximately 2.5 million children experience homelessness. Homeless children can't learn when they don't know where their next meal is coming from, or what is waiting for them at home. They often struggle in public schools where they feel out of place, or unable to keep up because they've missed schooling in the past....

Catalysts
A Game-Changer for Chronic Homelessness
A Game-Changer for Chronic Homelessness
Watch Now
Catalysts
A Game-Changer for Chronic Homelessness
He turned a food truck for the homeless into a thriving 51-acre community.
Watch Now

Mobile Loaves & Fishes is an organization with a new approach to tackling homelessness - putting community first. Their Community First! Village provides affordable, long-term housing for the chronically homeless. They find through housing and a community that emphasizes respect and relationships, chronically homeless individuals are able to finally heal from trauma and begin to thrive, work, and live better lives....

An App to Help Prevent Suicide
An App to Help Prevent Suicide
Watch Now
An App to Help Prevent Suicide
Meet the teens who built the notOK App: a "panic button" for people who need help.
Watch Now

After her struggle with disease lead to a suicide attempt, she came up with an idea for an app to help desperate people reach out. Her brother helped write notOK, an app that works like a panic button to help people having suicidal thoughts quickly reach out to trusted contacts for support. When the user hits the button, it both sends the contacts a message asking them to get in touch and sends them the user’s location so...

Crossing the Divide
Americans Are Divided. These People Are Doing Something About It.
Americans Are Divided. These People Are Doing Something About It.
Crossing the Divide
Americans Are Divided. These People Are Doing Something About It.
Amidst our most intense religious, political, and cultural conflicts, there are people around the country who are...
By Dan Hayes

Amidst our most intense religious, political, and cultural conflicts, there are people around the country who are working tirelessly to forge connections