NaTakallam Programs

Articles on any specific programs and partnerships run by NaTakallam (TOCA, AFP, etc.)

New Year's resolutions

Five New Year’s Resolutions with Social Impact

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Now that 2023 has come to a close, it’s a habit for many to reflect on the past year and think ahead to the future we want to build — to the changes we want to see in our lives. Many New Year resolutions focus on the individual, but living in communities compels us to remember that we should also work constantly toward our common future. We need to continuously reexamine the impact we have on the world. To that end, we’ve compiled a list of five New Year’s resolutions with social impact.

Here at NaTakallam, we firmly believe in the individual’s power to make a difference through everyday actions. So this year, we’re suggesting a few social impact resolutions.

1. Active allyship and advocacy for the final and permanent self-determination of the Palestinian people — and the sustained liberation of all those facing systems of oppression.

As we come into 2024, we are restating our commitment to the Palestinian cause. Let this be the year when we all engage in advocacy, information, donations and education to finally end the violence in Gaza and the Occupied West Bank. More than that, 2024 should be the year we call, actively, for an end to oppression and breaking into liberation as a global collective.

2. Doubling down on a commitment to self-education and the sharing of what we’ve learned.

Reading a book, watching a documentary, visiting a museum, having a conversation — all these enhance our understanding of the world, expand our horizons and turn us into more aware individuals. Sharing them with family and friends in turn can create a ripple effect and transform our consciousness from individual to collective.

3. Using money (and time) intentionally.

Whether we like it or not, money is power, and the way we decide to use it is political. This year, are you ready to spend more time looking into the hidden cost of things we’re used to buying? How much do your purchases comply with your ethical standards? While we may think that one individual’s actions may not hold much power, it is precisely this mentality that powers unethical companies. And of course, while it can be difficult or downright impossible to achieve 100% ethical consumption in our current global society, we can always be looking for ways to improve on the status quo. Reexamining our spending will also require an investment of time and energy — but we research all kinds of questions on our phones every day. Why not make this one of them? As the French say, “Beaucoup de gouttes font un océan. (Many drops make an ocean.)”

With the current siege on Gaza and other humanitarian crises overwhelming the humanitarian sector, financial support for emergency aid — as well as more long-term peace-building projects — can be a lifeline for organizations relying on external funding. NaTakallam’s co-founder Aline Sara has compiled a list of organizations that are active in Gaza and need your support. And if you aren’t able to donate money, volunteering time can be a wonderful and enriching alternative.

4. Practicing kindness and community care.

Simple acts of kindness can create waves of positivity. This year, let’s all commit to being more compassionate in our daily interactions, whether it’s by offering a helping hand, a kind word or a smile. When we care for those around us, our world — and theirs — changes for the better.

5. Learning a new language.

While learning a new language is a common resolution, we may forget that it’s a journey that goes beyond grammar and vocabulary; it’s about connecting with other cultures and perspectives through their own tongue. This endeavor fosters empathy and broadens our understanding of the world, making us more open and accepting people. NaTakallam’s mission goes beyond creating opportunities for high-quality virtual language exchange: We strive to connect individuals culturally and emotionally, to tear down barriers and create community.

Do any of these resolutions pique your interest? What else can you come up with? Let us know in the comments, and let’s commit to building our collective future together!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Aline Sara is the co-founder and CEO of NaTakallam, the idea of which occurred during the height of the Syrian refugee crisis in 2014. The American-born daughter of displaced Lebanese parents, she splits her time between Paris and New York City and works tirelessly for refugee rights and global peace-building.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Federica Ballardini is currently studying politics and geography at the University of Taiwan while working as PR and Grants Project Manager for NaTakallam. In addition to learning languages, she loves cappuccino, bouldering and maps!

ABOUT THE EDITOR: Kelsey Holmes, NaTakallam’s Marketing & Communications Manager, has a background in international development, politics, social impact, and entrepreneurship, Based in Paris, you’ll also find her exploring the outdoors, enjoying creative hobbies like pottery and painting, and discovering new talent at Paris’s music venues.

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Teens of Color Abroad

Study abroad made more accessible: NaTakallam’s partnership with Teens of Color Abroad

Reading Time: 4 minutes

The pandemic transformed our world in a multitude of ways. One of COVID-19’s more positive aspects was the unprecedented access to digital education; from shifting classrooms towards e-learning, to gaining human connection via virtual exchanges. This digital transformation set the scene for an out-of-the-box idea – a virtual study abroad opportunity!

As classrooms went virtual, so did one brilliant organization: Teens of Color Abroad (TOCA). Its founder, Lamar Shambley, launched the award-winning non-profit organization in 2018 in order to provide global language-learning and cultural exchange opportunities for high school students of color in the U.S. With its in-person educational programs – now virtually available, too – TOCA aims to confront the racial disparities that prevail in language-learning and studying abroad. By addressing the underrepresentation of African-American students in study abroad programs, TOCA creates pathways for high school students to become involved in international study. TOCA cultivates the next generation of globally-conscious youth of color with full language immersion study abroad experiences.

Shambley was inspired to start a program of his own based on his educational background and personal experience, as well as those of his students, having taught Spanish for eight years to high schoolers in New York. Despite having maintained straight A’s in his Spanish courses, he neither had a passport, nor was able to afford to study in a different country. Shambley relied on meeting virtual friends in chat rooms as a means to practice his conversational Spanish. It wasn’t until college that he finally received support from an academic advisor, who saw his passion and potential. Shambley shared that, “it took one educator to knock down the barriers that had precluded [him] from accessing international opportunities.” He further explained that thanks to the financial aid offered, he was able to secure his first passport and the chance to travel to the Dominican Republic. It was from this experience that Shambley learned he wanted to do the same for other students like himself.

Back in 2020, as TOCA was preparing to send its first group of students to Spain for a summer program, the pandemic broke out, turning the whole world upside down. Shambley recalled how they “were forced to think outside of the box” amidst the lockdowns and travel restrictions, while staying true to their mission. That was when they joined forces with NaTakallam, along with the support of our long-standing partner, Qatar Foundation International, to create TOCA Online

In response to the ongoing pandemic, Teens of Color Abroad (TOCA) launched TOCA Online, a virtual language learning and cultural exchange program where U.S. high school students study Arabic, Spanish, or French, with NaTakallam’s refugee language partners based around the world.

Since its launch, the program has enabled nearly 300 students from 30 states across the U.S. to enroll in the virtual language learning and cultural exchange program, which now included Arabic, Spanish and French, with fully-funded scholarships thanks to Qatar Foundation International. As part of the immersion, TOCA has hosted virtual cooking classes with NaTakallam language partners, where students were introduced to dishes from around the world, and Fresh Fridays – hosted on Twitch – where a DJ showcased songs from different countries, “leading listeners on a musical journey across borders.”

When asked about his proudest moments so far, Shambley recalled how he was contacted by a parent to share that her “daughter [had] begun studying languages in college after her TOCA Online experience”. He illustrated that through writing recommendation letters, TOCA Online has led to some of its students to be accepted into their dream colleges and universities. In fact, data from the initiative’s pre- and post-program services show that by the end of the program, 96% of students “show interest in learning more about the way of life in different countries,” and 98% are “keen to explore other cultures’ traditions.”

This summer, TOCA was thrilled to host its very first in-person language immersion program in Spain. The students engaged in over 30 hours of small group language trainings and participated in culturally immersive activities, such as the experience of a homestay with a local family. The school in which TOCA students studied, was the same one Shambley attended during his time abroad in college! This full-circle moment was particularly special to Shambley. 

TOCA and NaTakallam’s ongoing partnership is a unique one. While one addresses equitable opportunities for students of color, the other provides employment opportunities for refugees and displaced persons in the language sector. Both organizations illustrate the power that language and conversation have; to form deeper human connections which transcend borders in spite of any circumstances. Furthermore, both TOCA and NaTakallam combat stereotypes and change the limited narratives surrounding marginalized communities.

As the post-pandemic world resumes and classrooms return to in-person modes of instruction, TOCA and NaTakallam continue to find even more creative ways to make language-learning more accessible and impactful than ever.

Are you a globally-minded U.S. high school student of color interested in learning Spanish, French, or Arabic? We invite you to apply to TOCA Online! Keep a close eye on application and scholarship deadlines.

If you are an educator, please help us to widely spread the word.

Stay in the loop by following TOCA on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and TikTok.

Study abroad made more accessible: NaTakallam’s partnership with Teens of Color Abroad Read More »

Refugees are Superheroes. Learn languages with them

Refugees are Superheroes. Learn languages with them!

Reading Time: 7 minutes110 million displaced – we marked World Refugee Month in June with this record-high number estimated by UNHCR. That’s more than the populations of Australia, France, and Costa Rica combined. In fact, if being displaced was a nationality, it would make up the 14th most populous country in the world.

But numbers tend to drown the stories and one’s capacity to fully grasp what such a figure means. When or if we do, we tend to feel overwhelmed and somewhat paralyzed.

This month, we’re going beyond just numbers: we are focusing on positive stories around displacement, of loss and challenges, of hope and second chances – and NaTakallam’s role in the making.

Through these stories, we hope to suggest practical ways of making an impact, notably through your choice of language learning or language services.

At NaTakallam, we see refugees as superheroes, and we want the whole world to learn from them.


Meet Saeed, from Syria.

Current location
: Brazil
Favorite dish: Shawarma and Shakriyeh
Former profession: Manager of a tourism company
Teaching: Arabic with NaTakallam since 2015.

Hear his story: I’m originally from Damascus, Syria, where I managed a tourism company. Due to the conflict, I had to leave Syria in 2012, and I traveled through Lebanon, Turkey, Morocco, and finally, to Brazil.

In my seven years of teaching Arabic with NaTakallam, I’ve been able to make many friends from all over the world. I finally got my Brazilian citizenship last year and I was able to see my family again while attending a workshop with NaTakallam in Lebanon.

This year, I’m traveling to Turkey to meet one of my students in person, and get engaged to my fiancée whom I met through working with NaTakallam! I’m also going to Greece with a team from “Doctors without Borders” to help refugees in Lesbos.

NaTakallam gave me a chance to show the whole world that we can do so many things and that we are all human in the end.


Meet Leila, from Iran.

Current location: Germany
Former profession: Actress and a Social Media Community Engagement Specialist
Favorite dish: Ghormeh-Sabzi
Teaching: Persian with NaTakallam since 2020.

Hear her story: My husband and I were forced to flee Mashhad, Iran, in 2015 when he was arrested for DJing at mixed parties (both illegal in Iran), and faced a severe penalty. For three years, we lived in Greece, hopping from one refugee camp to another. My background is in computer science but during my time in Greece, I leveraged my love for performance to make some pocket money. I got the chance to work with visual artist Olga Stefatou on an art project that celebrates the individuality of female refugees and asylum seekers. But we sensed there was no real future ahead of us in Greece.

While we managed to get to Germany, we spent three more years living in six refugee camps in different cities, under-resourced shared apartments, and even a converted shipping container. It was extremely difficult and dehumanizing as we are not allowed to work or study, just waiting and hoping our status will change.

I began teaching Farsi through NaTakallam as a source of income. I’m really inspired by my students – their commitment to learning a new language motivates me to learn German, to be able to restart my life here soon. One of my students even traveled to Germany to visit me!

Today, my dream is to help other refugees as a social worker. Everyone deserves a second chance.

Meet Sayed, from Afghanistan.

Current location: Indonesia
Former profession: Interpreter and Translator
Favorite dish: Mantu and Qabuli-Palaw
Teaching: Persian with NaTakallam since 2019.

Hear his story: 34 years back, I was born in Afghanistan but I don’t want to say that I belong to a limited place or country. We all migrate to different places for various reasons and ways. I refugeed twice because of security issues. Once when I was child of 9, I fled to Iran, and later on to Indonesia, as a refugee in 2013.

I fled Afghanistan again because I studied French language and literature, worked with ISAF/ NATO and another French NGO for education, helping to build schools and create educational materials – which was criminalized under the Taliban.

I journeyed through India to Indonesia in 2013, only to be detained and behind bars for two years. Exactly like a prisoner, for the crime of being a refugee.

And there’s migrating too – the artistic way, this couldn’t have happened without NaTakallam. Working with this beautiful organization gives me the opportunity to migrate and virtually travel around the world, learn about new cultures, exchange ideas, and share the real experiences of refugees.

NaTakallam is a door of hope and dignity; a home where I can exhale the pains of being forced to leave family and dreams; currently in Indonesia, we are not allowed to work, access formal education, healthcare or travel within the country.

Meet Yaroslavna, from Ukraine.

Current location: Ukraine
Former profession: English Teacher
Favorite dish: Baked potatoes
Teaching: Ukrainian and Russian with NaTakallam since 2022

Hear her story: I lost all of the people I thought I had. I was born in independent sovereign Ukraine. I’ve always been Ukrainian even though I spoke Russian. Today’s Russia/Ukraine war really had its beginnings in 2014. My hometown Donetsk got seized, and some locals even welcomed and were eager to be part of Russia.

The war left me no choice but to escape to Kyiv. Now I remain here with some of my family members, trying to look forward to the future. The war left no safe place in my country. Every Ukrainian has been affected by it.

During these challenging times, NaTakallam has been a beacon of hope, with unconditional support since the day I met them. Working at NaTakallam has allowed me to provide for my family as well as reconnect with a part of myself I thought I had lost in the war. This is what helps me to move on with my life at the moment – the NaTakallam community, sympathetic students learning Ukrainian or Russian language.

I now look forward to seeing my country rise from its ashes again. With the help of the world, I know we can win.

Meet Ghaith, from Syria.

Current location: Italy
Former profession: Journalist
Favorite dish: Kibbeh
Teaching: Arabic with NaTakallam since 2015

Hear his story: I’m originally from Hama, Syria. In 2013, I fled the Syrian army while I was recovering from a shrapnel injury. I did what seemed like the best option at the time and fled to Lebanon. But the Lebanese authorities told me to leave Lebanon within one week.

Imagine yourself in a country that is not yours, a stranger, you own nothing, you cannot work and you have no right to do so just because you are a refugee, and, at the same time, you cannot return to your country because you are considered a “traitor”, just because you refused to participate in the killing of your own countrymen.

Then suddenly, someone comes along to help you work remotely, without any problems and without putting you at risk – someone who allows you to live in dignity without needing a grant from anyone.

This is what NaTakallam has done for me, and this is what every refugee needs, someone who believes in their ability and that they can make something instead of waiting for others. NaTakallam gave me an avenue through which I could earn a living – something that was almost impossible in my situation.

In 2016, my NaTakallam student-turned-friend connected me with an organization that helps resettle refugees in Italy. The organization allowed me to move and start a new life in Padua, Italy, where I am pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Political Science at the University of Padua. And last summer, I started a full-time job as a news editor!

To me, NaTakallam is like a window to the world. You just need a connection.


Refugees are mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, children… and superheroes! This World Refugee Month and beyond, we hope that you consider choosing NaTakallam for your language needs. With 100+ million displaced, creative, tangible and sustainable ways to support refugees are critical.

Contribute to more #successstories and #secondchances for refugees, displaced persons, and conflict-affected individuals with NaTakallam by:

1. Signing up for your favorite language here,
2. Choosing us for your translation or interpretation needs here,
3. Bringing stories of our Language Partners to your community or workplace by hosting a Refugee Voices session… and joining the likes of Twitter, Meta, Ebay, and more!
4. Following us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Linkedin.
5. Creating impact through partnerships with us! Get in touch here.

Refugees are Superheroes. Learn languages with them! Read More »

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