A new UK-based startup is hiring refugees to teach languages, including Swahili, Arabic, Korean and Farsi, to university students, businesspeople and private clients. Emily Wither reports.
It's a refugee running this language tution session today, not the other way round. Hekma is teaching her native Arabic to a British student. She has joined a growing number of newly arrived, degree-educated refugees that a new startup called Chatterbox has employed to teach their mother tongue. SOAS university of London is the first to sign students up for these conversational practice sessions but the company hopes the service will spread to other universities and workplaces. Hekma fled war in Sudan two years ago - she was once a human rights lawyer and this is her first job since claiming asylum. She says losing her career is still very painful. (SOUNDBITE) (English) HEKMA YADOUB, LANGUAGE TUTOR, SAYING: "It's not an easy option when you just start from zero, from the beginning and you have all that experience, it's really frustrating." At the Ministry of Startups the idea was hatched by Mursal Hedayat - she now employs 31 tutors teaching languages from Korean to Farsi. She watched her mother struggle as a refugee when her family left Afghanistan when she was 4 years-old. A civil engineer by practice her mother used her language skills to find meaningful employment. (SOUNDBITE) (English) CHATTERBOX FOUNDER, MURSAL HEDAYAT, SAYING: "The tragedy of having to leave her things, her family, her society was compounded by the fact that the arrival that she had in the UK was peppered with disappointments, being disappointed not to be able to go on practicing in a profession that she had dedicated her life to." One of the most popular tutors is Muna Asaied from Damascus. She was an architect before fleeing Syria just over a year ago. Teaching may not have been her chosen path but it's giving her a sense of worth and belonging - something that's often lost when you've been displaced.