“I don’t want to be a burden on the government, I want to be an asset”, says Kainaaz, an exiled film producer and director now living in the UK.
Thanks to a new language learning start-up that is running a pilot programme at the University College London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), now, she can be.
Chatterbox is a social enterprise teacher training programme that aims, in the words of its founder, Mursal Hedayat, to “help refugees improve their overall employability, through confidence building, networking, and, more crucially, gaining UK work experience, whilst saving the UK a fortune estimated to be worth as much as £48bn in missed trading opportunities.
Mursal herself arrived in the UK as a refugee from Afghanistan, with her family. She immediately came up with the idea of employing fellow refugees as language tutors, to help others settle into new, often strange lives, meet new people, and find work.
We often (conveniently) forget that refugees come to the UK as skilled professionals who are desperate to continue the successful careers they have been forced, through no fault of their own, to abandon. “It’s fantastic for them to engage in stimulating work whilst learning more about the way of life here”, says Mursal.
“For our language students, there’s the enticing possibility of adding hundreds of millions of people to their friends list every time they learn a new language, in addition to all of the career and brain activity benefits.”
The pilot with SOAS is set to run until March; students will be able to book one-hour sessions with native language speakers, and the Chatterbox service is also available online, which means that refugees dispersed all around the UK can get involved, and discover a new source of revenue.
Soon, online and in-person lessons will be available in three Arabic dialects, two Persian dialects, Swahili, Korean, French-African dialects, and Spanish.
The initiative has won praise from SOAS – Ian Pickup, Director of Academic Services described the project as “a fantastic educational and social initiative”, whilst Lutz Martens, Dean of Faculty of Languages and Cultures at SOAS, praised its educational qualities.
“This is an engaging and innovative complement to the structure and direction students gain in the classroom, and can help prepare them for study or work abroad where the students are on their own.”
There are over 117,000 refugees currently living in the UK, and with a deficit in language skills in the UK that costs the economy in the region of £48 billion every year in missed trading opportunities, the social and economic benefits of Chatterbox are writ large on a society that too often prefers to think of refugees as unskilled, and a burden.
What welcome news that attitudes towards refugees, thanks to the likes of entrepreneurs like Mursal and establishments like SOAS, are finally beginning to reflect the diverse, cultural melting pot that makes London and many, many parts of the UK. such incredible places in which to live and work.
Everybody, no matter their race, creed, or country of birth, should be able to participate and take inspiration from it.