Chatterbox, a language academy affiliated to the University of London, is hiring dozens of refugees with university studies to teach their native languages, offering them a job and the opportunity of sharing their culture.
Eiad Ziná, a 30-years old Syrian coming from Damascus, talks relaxed in Arabic with a young German girl in one of the college’s classrooms. It is the first class that teaches to his new students, and, despite the fact that, in the last months, language schools in Germany have filled with refugees from Middle East that want to learn German, this time Ziná is the one who teaches Arabic.
“It is amazing to be able to teach your language to other people, because it helps them to understand you”
As he explains at the end of the lesson, “it is amazing to be able to teach your language to other people, because it helps them to understand you”. The lessons are organized by the company Chatterbox, with the help of the University of London.
“Today I had students from Taiwan, England and Germany. You meet people from everywhere and I love it”, Ziná points out. Ziná also gives Arabic lessons through the internet. He escaped from Damascus in 2012, at the beginning of the war in Syria. After some years in different European places, he managed to reach the British shores hid in a ferry that came from Brussels. Inspite of being a dentist in Syria and having a university degree, he has been forced to study odontology again in London, where he receives English lessons to be able to work in the UK.
A different way of understanding
This young Syrian is member of a growing group of refugees that recently arrived in the UK, who have university degrees and to whom Chatterbox has been able to give a job as teachers of Swahili, Arabic, Korean and Farsi. Among their pupils, there are university students, business men, and customers from any kind and condition.
One of Ziná’s students, Leah Sternfeld, used to give German lessons to Syrian refugees in her home town, Tubinga. As she explains, “when you are learning a language, you must place yourself in a humble position. I believe that is a great sing of respect. I don’t like to categorize people. I want to meet Ziná as a person, not just like a refugee or a Syrian and I believe that learning his language is a great way to do it”.
A source of help for refugees
Mursal Hedayat, founder of Chatterbox, is an Afghan refugee that arrived to the UK in 1994. She came up with the idea of founding the company when she saw the problems her mother, an engineer at the time, had for finding a job when she first arrived. As Hedayat says, there are hundreds of refugees in the UK who are highly qualified but, as it happened to her mother, they have plenty of difficulties to find a job in their receiving countries. This occurs because they don´t have professional connections in their new home, or their studies aren’t officially recognized out of their home land.
As a Mursal Hedayat, who is graduated in economy, explains, “If all your professional experience took place in a country that is currently living a civil war, it is very hard to find someone that wants to give you an opportunity.”
Today, her initiative employs dozens of refugees that come from countries like Syria, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Yemen, Afghanistan and Iraq. Many of them work as lawyers, college teachers, doctors and translators. As Hedayat points out, “After spending months or even years relying upon humanitarian help, to feel that they are able to win money by themselves, translates in an increase of self-confidence”.