SEATTLE — NaTakallam is a social enterprise that provides job opportunities for refugees in the language sector. Such opportunities include, “online language lessons, virtual exchange programs and remote translation”, the Head of Recruitment and Translation, Lydia Bassaly, told The Borgen Project. NaTakallam has helped more than 130 displaced persons self generate more than $500,000.
Aline Sara came up with the premise of NaTakallam in 2015, the basis of which came from her own need to practice conversational Arabic and address the lack of job opportunities for refugees. Bassaly told The Borgen Project that “NaTakallam was started on the realization that refugees face tremendous difficulties to access the local job market, while at the same time having certain unique skills to offer that are greatly in demand. NaTakallam’s mission is to serve these populations, leveraging the gig economy to connect refugees and displaced people to remote work opportunities in the language sector.”
Conversation Partners (CP)
Refugees connected through NaTakallam are called Conversation Partners (CP), and they offer online sessions in Arabic, Spanish and Persian. NaTakkalam also offers translation services in those same core languages and also in Kurdish, Pashto, Portuguese, Tigrinya and Urdu. The company has hired displaced persons and refugees, mainly from the Middle East and North Africa, as Conversation Partners. Displaced persons and refugees still need support that their receiving countries often lack. That is where NaTakallam comes in. Bassaly explained to The Borgen Project that “some of our CPs battle health conditions and have constantly thanking NaTakallam for its support through these times. One of our CPs is single-handedly supporting four people right now while raising two young kids, and she has really benefited from her work with NaTakallam and its flexibility.”
Clients of Conversation Partners also benefit greatly from their online language sessions. Bassaly told The Borgen Project that “many [clients]say they get mistaken for native speakers when they go out into the world and interact in Arabic, Persian or Spanish, after learning these languages with our native speaker conversation partners.” These interactions also provide cross-cultural exchanges and a chance to foster a friendship with a displaced person the customers are directly supporting. Bassaly further explained, “we think our customers are benefiting from NaTakallam’s services as much as our refugee conversation partners are […] it’s an incredibly meaningful process for all sides involved.”
NaTakallam’s impact is twofold. Not only does it provide job opportunities for refugees, but it also encourages self-empowerment and sustainability. As Bassaly explained, NaTakallam “[promotes]narratives of refugees as skilled, qualified, and empowered individuals […] becoming a language instructor and being able to teach and give something back is extremely empowering for individuals who have often lost their agency.”
The bonds forged between clients and Conversation Partners through NaTakallam also surpass the online classroom. One student refers to his CP as his best friend, moreover, “[o]ne of our CPs’ laptop broke once and one of his students decided to buy him a new one. Another CP was able to resettle to a new country due to coverage he gained through his student at NaTakallam,” Bassaly stated.
– Tylo Haven Tillah