Social Impact

Further information pertaining to refugees, immigrants, victims of conflict, and other social issues.

5 Reasons Why Language Learning Boosts Your Mental Health

Reading Time: 5 minutes

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a time to highlight the profound impact of mental well-being practices. We know that #mentalhealthmatters  – the hashtag has over 13 million posts on Instagram! As a language learning and cultural exchange social enterprise, powered by the talents of displaced and conflict-affected individuals, we believe in the transformative power of language learning — not just as a cognitive exercise but as a vital tool for enhancing mental health. Let’s explore how learning and teaching languages can benefit both learners and educators.

The Mental Health Benefits of Language Learning

Language learning offers numerous mental health advantages. It can significantly reduce stress, alleviate social anxiety, boost self-esteem, and improve problem-solving skills. According to research, it even delays the onset of dementia, making it a powerful tool for cognitive health.

1. Enhancing Focus and Reducing Stress & Anxiety

When you’re focusing on a specific task, it relaxes the nervous system. Learning a new skill gives us a sense of purpose and growth. A team of Harvard researchers found evidence that active learning is actually a more effective stress management technique than passive relaxation.

 2. Combating Depression

Practicing a new language can help distract from negative thoughts and help you feel less isolated. The practice enables you to build social connections, and provide manageable goals, all of which are crucial in combating symptoms of depression.

3. Overcoming Social Anxiety

Language learning helps individuals deal with mistakes and learn how to respond to feedback. By practicing speaking with a language partner, you develop and strengthen social skills. In time, you will become more comfortable meeting new people. Still afraid to speak your target language? Try some of these tips

4. Boosting Self-Esteem

Achieving proficiency in a new language provides a sense of accomplishment that enhances self-worth.

5. Delaying Cognitive Decline

Language learning helps delay mental decline like Alzheimer’s and dementia. Studies suggest that it can delay the onset of Alzheimer’s by up to four years!

“A different language is a different vision of life.”

Frederico Fellini

The Unique Role of Refugee Teachers

NaTakallam’s refugee tutors play a crucial role, not only in educating others but also in benefiting themselves through the process of teaching. Here’s how language teaching aids their mental health and integration:

1. Self-Confidence and Empowerment

Teaching their native language allows refugee tutors to regain a sense of agency and self-worth. They feel empowered as they share their knowledge and cultural heritage with others.

2. Building Social Connections

By engaging with learners, refugee teachers build meaningful relationships, reducing feelings of isolation and fostering a sense of community.

3. Easier Emotional Expression & More Accurate Diagnosis

Teaching offers a structured way for refugees to process their experiences and traumas, which can be therapeutic. Afaf Doumani, a behavioral health navigator, emphasizes the importance of communication in mental health. She notes that speaking in one’s mother tongue allows for better articulation of emotions and more accurate diagnoses.

4. Cultural Exchange and Integration

Teaching their language helps refugees integrate into their new communities by bridging cultural gaps and promoting mutual understanding.

5. Gainful employment and a Dignified Income

Through NaTakallam, displaced and conflict-affected individuals are able to gain economic and social access regardless of location and status. 60% of our Language Partners report NaTakallam as their sole source of income.

“Language at its core is centered around people. Language learning by its nature is opening doors to new experiences.”

Kinda, Arabic Language Partner from Syria with NaTakallam since 2021

A Conversation with Afaf Doumani

Afaf Doumani, a Palestinian mental health professional with extensive experience working with refugees, underscores the critical role of language in mental health. With a master’s degree in social work and a background in developmental studies, Afaf has dedicated her career to supporting displaced individuals. She recalls her motivation to study mental health after witnessing the trauma of refugees following the Syrian conflict’s influx into Toledo, Ohio in the United States.

Afaf highlights several challenges refugees face, including the stigma around mental health in their native regions and the significant language barriers that prevent them from seeking help. “Mental health relies heavily on communication—more than physical health. Articulating emotions and sharing personal experiences are crucial for accurate diagnoses,” Afaf explains.

“Language is the essence of mental health. Explaining your feelings in your mother tongue is always easier—you can speak your heart. It’s about having someone who understands your culture and can help you articulate your emotions accurately.”

Afaf Doumani

Working with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Afaf focuses on MENA populations, emphasizing the need for mental health professionals who speak the native languages of their clients. She points out that the lack of such professionals often leads to mistrust in therapy interpretation sessions, where unfamiliarity with the interpreter can hinder effective communication. “Deprivation of communication undermines their wellbeing. I’m often the only Arabic-speaking person in the mental health field helping navigate and connect them to services,” she says. 

Afaf’s efforts extend to facilitating support groups for women and children, addressing cultural barriers, and promoting the importance of seeking help. “It’s about breaking the barriers and reminding people that it’s okay to ask for help. We meet them where they are, socializing and building trust,” she emphasizes.

Restoring Dignity & Celebrating Expression Builds Trust

Language learning is a powerful tool for mental health, offering numerous benefits for learners and refugee teachers alike. As we celebrate Mental Health Awareness Month, let’s recognize and embrace the dual impact of language learning: fostering cognitive and emotional well-being for learners while enabling displaced and conflict-affected teachers to express themselves, become more integrated in their communities, maintain and reaffirm their sense of dignity and unique cultural identity and build trust. 

Gain more insights and learn how to Stop Being Afraid to Speak and overcome your fear of utilizing your new language skills in our blog.

NaTakallam also offers Arabic for Professionals. This unique program created in-house by qualified Language Partners from conflict-affected backgrounds is a curriculum designed specifically for students looking to apply their Arabic language skills to their careers – from medical and humanitarian work, to journalism and business – and beyond.

Learn a language, make a friend and support the livelihoods of forcibly displaced persons – from the comfort of your home.

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woman displaying a sign reading "jin, jiyan, azadi" or "woman life freedom" in Kurdish

The Kurdish Roots of “Woman, Life, Freedom”

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Since the start of the ongoing Mahsa Amini Protests, which began in Iran in September 2022 after the murder of Jina Mahsa Amini at the hands of the Morality Police for not wearing her veil properly in public, we’ve heard the slogan “Woman, Life, Freedom” travel around the world. In Persian this is “zan, zendegî, âzâdî” (زن, زندگی, آزادی), but the slogan originates in the Kurdish language and the Kurdish struggle for autonomy.

The fight for women’s rights has long been intertwined with the Kurdish independence movement. The Kurdistan Free Women’s Union was established in 1995, and in the same year the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK), which had been co-founded in 1978 by a woman, Sakine Cansız, decided to promote the establishment of more independent female political, cultural, and economic organizations. These establishments were part of broader trends in Kurdish society and the liberalization of  Kurdish views on women’s roles. Abdullah Öcalan, also a co-founder of the PKK, theorized that the subjugation of women is the root of all other types of oppression and that society cannot exist in freedom unless women are free.

woman displaying a sign reading "jin, jiyan, azadi" or "woman life freedom" in Kurdish

In 1998, on International Women’s Day, the “Ideology of Women’s Liberation” was presented (possibly by Öcalan, though this is disputed) as a list of principles for women to follow in their emancipation battle. It stated that women had to break free not only from old social roles and the attitude that supported them, but also from total autonomy and self-organization. The Kurmanji Kurdish slogan “jîn, jîyan, azadî” started to become popular just a few years later. Its exact origins remain obscure, but it appeared after the arrest of Öcalan and the Kurdish independence leaders’ decisions to prioritize women’s rights as part of their movement.

​​In 2012, after the outbreak of the Syrian Civil War, Syrian Kurds established an autonomous government that platformed, among other planks, women’s liberation. The Syrian Women’s Protection Units engaged in combat against ISIS, while women’s civilian organizations continued to address patriarchal attitudes. As more territory was liberated from ISIS control, women from various non-Kurdish communities joined in the movement. They not only participated in the Autonomous Administration’s women’s institutions but also established their own organizations to cater to their specific needs. This bringing together of women across ethnic and religious lines showcased the universalist potential of the Kurdish women’s movement.

It is the history of this Kurdish women’s resistance tradition that has led Iranian Kurdish women to play a leading role in the ongoing Iranian protest movement, which was sparked by the murder of Jina Mahsa Amini, herself a Kurdish woman, but fueled by the desire to demonstrate against the Iranian regime. The slogan “jîn, jîyan, azadî” soon became the rallying cry of these protests, a reference to Amini’s Kurdish origins, and Persian speakers quickly picked it up, translating it to “zan, zendegî, âzâdî.” Although other slogans started circulating, “zan, zendegî, âzâdî” became the most popular one, thanks to social media and the efforts of the Iranian youth in spreading it outside Iranian and Kurdish borders. A notable example is the song “Barâye…” (برای”, “for”) by Shervin Hajipour, composed of various tweets explaining why people were protesting, or the anthem “Sorôde Zan” (“سرود زن”, “Women’s Hymn”) written by Mehdi Yarrahi. Both of these songwriters have since been arrested and sentenced to prison.

This slogan has now been translated into many languages, as people worldwide have shown solidarity for the cause and begun protesting against the current Iranian government. According to the scholar Handan Çağlayan, “the slogan is attractive for its spelling and rhythm and significant for its connotations.” Jîn and jîyan are two closely related words, but jîn in this case should not signify a glorification of womanhood; rather it means “claiming and supporting womanhood as a valuable identity independent of manhood.” Jîyan symbolizes the right to life, and azadî, the right to freedom, “symbolizing the mutuality between womanhood and Kurdishness in women’s political participation.”

Catalan government leaders hold a minute of silence for Mahsa Amini and all victims of gender-based violence outside the Barcelona City Hall beneath a sign that reads "woman, life, freedom" in Catalan and Persian.
Catalan government leaders hold a minute of silence for Mahsa Amini and all victims of gender-based violence outside the Barcelona City Hall beneath a sign that reads “woman, life, freedom” in Catalan and Persian.

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endangered languages by continent and status

Language Endangerment and How to Fight It

Reading Time: 6 minutes

In a world characterized by linguistic diversity, each language serves as a unique expression of culture, identity and heritage. However, the numbers of speakers of some languages are declining; these “mother tongues” are not being taught anymore. When this happens, the language becomes “endangered.” These endangered languages are at risk of disappearing forever, taking with them centuries of cultural wisdom, knowledge and tradition. Happily, we now have a better understanding of how and why this happens and what we can do to prevent it.

Sometimes it is debatable whether a language is actually endangered or not, as this topic is studied by different branches of social science such as linguistics and anthropology, and the experts don’t always agree. However, there are common characteristics and guidelines to identify vulnerable languages. Being informed on this topic is important to help us all work to preserve the cultural heritages these languages are associated with.

The languages that we often classify as “endangered” are often spoken by indigenous or minority communities around the globe, and they are at risk of disappearing as their speakers either pass away or transition to using other languages that have higher prestige, more social advantages (such better job or migration opportunities) or are imposed or favored by a government, institution or educational system. The next generations become bilingual, speaking both the community language and the favored language, but at some point they tend to pass on only the favored language to their own children.

When a language no longer has any native speakers, it is considered a “dead language.” If this language is not spoken even as a second language, it is classified as an “extinct language.” Even if a dead language is still studied through recordings or written materials (as for example with Latin or Ancient Greek), it is still considered extinct unless there are proficient speakers. While there are over 7,000 languages in the world today, experts expect 1,500 of them to be gone by the end of this century.

This bar chart, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, shows UNESCO’s count of languages spoken on each continent and their endangerment status as of 2019.

While languages have always been dying through human history, the current rate of decline has accelerated due to factors such as globalization, mass migration, cultural assimilation, imperialism, (neo)colonialism, and linguicide — the intentional suppression or eradication of a language. It is estimated that 45% of the world population speaks one of only a handful of “majority” languages, such as English, Spanish or Chinese. The rest of the population speaks “minority” languages; these are not necessarily endangered (many of them aren’t), but the numbers certainly put things into perspective.

Ethnologue is the go-to resource for linguists looking for speaker statistics of all the world’s languages (it also demonstrates the familial relationships between languages). UNESCO also has multiple projects documenting the languages of the world, such as the World Atlas of Languages, and it also has an atlas which focuses specifically on vulnerable or endangered languages; so does Google, with the Endangered Languages Project. Here you can find information and resources on endangered languages divided by country, but you can also find materials and resources written or spoken in these languages.

To get a better idea of what makes a language endangered, let’s consider the cases of two NaTakallam languages: Western Armenian and Kurdish.

Western Armenian is one of the two main varieties of the Armenian language (the other is Eastern Armenian; both dialects are offered by NaTakallam). Despite sharing a nearly identical vocabulary, the notable disparities in pronunciation and grammatical structures between the two variants are substantial enough to make an argument that the two varieties are different languages—though they are mutually intelligible. Western Armenian is based on the dialect spoken by the Armenian community living in present-day Turkey—a population which declined sharply due to its genocide and forced displacement by the Ottoman Empire in 1915.

The language today is spoken mainly by the Armenian diaspora living in Turkey, Georgia, Lebanon, Iraq and the United States, but being a “diaspora language” puts it in danger, as people are more inclined to speak and pass on the language of the country they are living in. Turkey has recognized Armenian as a minority language with certain rights since the Treaty of Lausanne in 1925, but the degree to which this treaty meets modern international standards for minority language rights has been disputed. Armenian within Armenia, of course, is not endangered, but it is the Eastern Armenian variety which predominates in this country.

The Armenian alphabet is unique to its language and has a rich calligraphic history, as this example page from the Metropolitan Museum of Art shows.
A Kurdish woman displays traditional Kurdish clothing. Photo by Daroon Jasm.

Another vulnerable language offered by NaTakallam is Kurdish. Like Armenian, debate exists over whether Kurdish can be considered one language or a group of related languages; its various dialects are often not easily mutually intelligible. Only Zazaki is unanimously considered to be endangered, but while Kurdish is spoken in Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Iran and beyond, it is only recognized as an official language in Iraq, and this is the only country where Kurdish-language education is available. Since the Kurdish population faces different degrees of discrimination across the countries in which they live, the language can’t always be spoken freely by its community.

Luckily, language decline can be reversed; if enough people are interested in the culture and in the language itself, it can be revitalized. Many people with an immigrant background or from minority communities take an interest in their roots and want to know more about the language their parents or grandparents spoke, so they teach themselves or engage in other efforts to revitalize a language. Such revival efforts are still ongoing everywhere in the world for various languages, and it’s too soon to say whether or not they will take off, but any community that takes an interest in keeping its culture alive has definitely taken the first step to success.

If you’re interested in learning more about endangered languages in general, we recommend you check out The Green Book of Language Revitalization in Practice and Sustaining Linguistic Diversity.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Alice Zanini is a copywriting intern at NaTakallam. She is currently pursuing her bachelor’s degree in linguistics and Middle Eastern studies. Her research focus is on sociopolitical and sociolinguistic issues in modern Turkey and the Persian-speaking world.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mikaela Bell is a freelance editor and content writer with a background in anthropology and linguistics. An American based in France, she is also fond of reading, cooking, studying languages, fibercrafts and Irish stepdance.

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woman looking out window at snow

Coping with Compassion Fatigue: Strategies and Insights

Reading Time: 9 minutes

Balancing Opposite Worlds: Life During Global Crises

On a recent day in January, I woke up to a world made white with new-fallen snow. I checked messages on my phone while snuggling with my toddler under the warm covers, then sent him off to daycare with his dad, made myself a mug of gingerbread spice tea, and sat down at my laptop for another marketing meeting that had been taken over by the genocide in Gaza.

On my break, I posted about the snow on Facebook. I posted about Gaza. I posted about how excited I was for the new vacuum cleaner I’d gotten for Christmas and how bizarre it felt to reach that stage of life where a new vacuum cleaner was worth getting excited about. And I wondered if anyone would take my posts about Gaza seriously when I was also posting about vacuum cleaners. And what kind of person was I anyway, to be excited about a new vacuum cleaner when body bags the size of my toddler were piling up? And yet I knew that if I thought too long about those body bags, I’d crawl back into my warm bed and refuse to come out. Posting about the vacuum cleaner made me happy. And besides, if I didn’t post about anything but Gaza, how many of my Facebook friends would unfollow me and never see any of it?

After all, I myself had started avoiding social media posts about Gaza.

When the war started, I sought out the feeds that showed what was happening in Gaza, convinced that if enough people saw them the madness would stop. Then I stopped sharing them. Then I started scrolling past them as fast as possible. It was hormones, I told myself; as a mother, my brain just wasn’t structured to handle photos of dead children. Then the number of dead would tick up another digit and I’d share another headline, leave another message for the White House, draft another newsletter, and run the vacuum cleaner.

The Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines “compassion fatigue” as “apathy or indifference toward the suffering of others as the result of overexposure to tragic news stories and images and the subsequent appeals for assistance.” Coming up on Day 100 of the war on Gaza, I was suffering from a serious case of it. I didn’t want to think about millions of people starving while bombs rained down on their heads — I wanted to hug my toddler, drink tea, and watch the snow fall. How would making myself miserable help anyone? I’d already donated what I could afford and left messages with both my senators, but the bombs were still falling.

A Google search for “how to avoid compassion fatigue” turns up a host of articles, most of them directed at medical professionals, caretakers, and educators. The tips mostly seem to involve leaving work’s problems at work, practicing self-care, and relying on colleagues for support. But no matter how much suffering they encounter, a nurse can go to sleep each day knowing they have delivered pain relief or made a sick child smile. It was a lot harder to tell myself I had made a difference for Gaza. There’s not much on dealing with compassion fatigue when your job is simply marketing language services — even services delivered by refugees.

How do you avoid compassion fatigue when you’re just trying to be a decent human being while remaining sane?

Mari Andrew’s Wisdom: Poetry for Difficult Times

Comfort and counsel can come from surprising places, and a few weeks ago, a Facebook memory brought back a certain poem: “I am washing my face before bed while a country is on fire. It feels dumb to. It feels dumb not to. It has never been this way, and it has always been this way. Someone has always clinked a cocktail glass in one hemisphere as someone loses a home in another while someone falls in love in the same apartment building where someone grieves. The fact that suffering, mundanity, and beauty coincide is unbearable and remarkable.”

I first encountered these powerful words in the opening days of the war on Ukraine, and at the time I think I assumed they had been written for that occasion. After Google failed me on compassion fatigue, I tried the opening lines of this poem and found the whole text, as well as the author Mari Andrew’s own reflections on its writing. To my surprise, it wasn’t about Ukraine at all; it was written in reference to the literal wildfires that had consumed the country of Australia in January 2020. (“How is a person supposed to do ordinary things like fall in love when a quick phone scroll is both advertising discount designer socks and informing me that 12 million acres have burned?” she asks.) But the words, the author said, had carried her through the ensuing Covid pandemic and beyond for the same reasons they continue to circulate on social media today: I am not the only one feeling trapped between the horrific headlines, the vacuum cleaner, and the new-fallen snow. We are all struggling.

At the same time, I realized that I had never actually seen the entire poem. It’s usually the opening lines that get shared online because those are the lines that convey the emotion without making reference to specific circumstances. And yet Andrew isn’t just pouring out her heart with this poem; she’s also working toward solutions. “I despair with an exhale, then I refuse to despair, with an inhale. … ‘I must choose between despair and energy—I choose the latter.’ — Keats. What does it look like to state in the midst of smoke: I choose energy? For starters, I choose to finish washing my face. Then…” Andrew goes on to elaborate a list of concrete actions she is taking: eating less meat, buying new music, keeping money in her pocket to give away to someone who needs it, buying from an Aboriginal-owned business and attending a birthday party.

What’s interesting about this list is that not all of these activities had direct bearing on the wildfires. Eating less meat is, of course, an established way to combat climate change, and one can see how buying from Aboriginal-owned businesses becomes doubly important when Aboriginal communities are burning. But why does she decide to give $5 to a needy stranger? How does celebrating a friend’s birthday help? “I choose to do the things that I may think are too insignificant to matter, because sometimes protesting is an act of grieving and small choices toward energy keep me from despair,” she writes, “because grief and celebration often happen in the same night.”

I believe that all of us, whether this year’s fight be climate change, Covid, Ukraine, Congo, Gaza or whatever 2024 and 2025 have in store, can benefit from Mari Andrew’s wisdom. In that vein, I’m going to finish by sharing a few practical ideas for combating compassion fatigue that I have developed over the past few months, as we all struggle to be decent human beings while staying sane.

Combatting Compassion Fatigue: Practical Tips

  1. Continue to do the things that bring you joy. Go to the birthday parties. Drink the tea. Hug your children, and watch the new-fallen snow. You are not helping the people of Gaza or anywhere else by adding to the world’s sorrow. You are not betraying them by feeling happy. Your emotions make no difference to Gaza one way or another, so you might as well laugh with those who laugh.
  2. Make space to mourn with those who mourn. Reach out to those who are hurting. Take time to send a message to one of NaTakallam’s Palestinian Language Partners or the countless other Gazans who continue to cling to the Internet as their only window out of a living hell. Let them know you are thinking of them, or praying for them, or fighting for them. Make sure they remember that they are not alone.
  3. Set up a recurring donation. Instead of thinking in terms of a single grand gesture, then feeling frustrated because the $500 you emptied from your vacation account (or didn’t) isn’t even a drop in the bucket of Gaza’s need, decide what you can afford to give on a monthly basis — even if it’s just $10 — but keep doing so. Most of us get income on a regular basis, and most charities make it easy for you to have regular donations deducted from your bank account. After you’ve made your decisions and set up the automation, don’t spend more mental energy on it. Not sure where to donate? We recommend Save the Children, Doctors Without Borders, Tech for Palestine, and Jewish Voices for Peace, or you could donate to this fundraiser to support NaTakallam Language Partner Shahd, who lives in Rafah and whose family is currently sheltering several others who have lost their homes.
  4. Make decisions in advance about your spending habits. Agonizing over whether you’re a terrible person every time you buy a latte or a new music album is just going to make you avoid giving altogether. Instead, after you’ve set up your recurring charitable donation, decide on two implementable changes to your everyday shopping habits. This can involve choosing to buy less or shop elsewhere — such as by participating in the Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions movement — or patronizing Palestinian businesses such as those listed in our 2023 Impactful Gift Ideas. Making the decision now will save you from worrying later on. In my case, seeing our local supermarket chain on the BDS list was the push my family needed to finally commit to shopping at at the organic supermarket instead. I like that by doing so we can contribute to two causes at once.
  5. Set a reminder on your phone for one weekly action. This can be attending a protest, calling your senators, writing a letter to the editor of your local newspaper, asking a major company to divest from the military, or any other action you choose — what matters is doing something. If you don’t have time to attend a protest every Saturday, you can still take two minutes to email a corporation. Once you’ve decided which actions to take, get everything set up. Put your elected representatives’ numbers into the contacts list on your phone (they should probably be there anyway). Write out a short script for yourself — your message should take no longer than 30 seconds to deliver. Bookmark a few “letter to the editor” forms on both major and local newspapers. Or save an email template asking for divestments.

More Preparation = Less Energy Needed Later

For all of these tips, you’ll probably notice a trend: the more you prepare now, the less effort you’ll need to expend later when you’re feeling less motivated. Emotions can be powerful as agents that drive us to act, but it’s our actions that matter.

And now I’d like to close with another bit of poetry: “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.” American Rabbi Rami Shapiro is the author of this famous passage, paraphrasing the Mishnah. For me, that last line has become key when fighting off compassion fatigue. I am not going to save those children in Gaza. The fate of Gaza rests in hands far larger than mine. I am only called to do as much as I can do. But I will do that much.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mikaela Bell is a freelance editor and content writer with a background in anthropology and linguistics. An American based in France, she is also fond of reading, cooking, studying languages, fibercrafts and Irish stepdance.

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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large Palestinian flag being shaken

The Origins and Meaning of Intifada

Reading Time: 3 minutes

“Intifada” (إنتفاضة) is a term we often hear in slogans related to Palestinian resistance movements, the most famous and controversial being “globalize the intifada,” but what exactly is the meaning of intifada?

The word comes from the Arabic word “nafaDa” (نفض) which is a verb meaning “to shake the dust off something.” It could be used literally as “shaking [the dust] off the carpets” (نفض السجّاد) or figuratively, as “shaking off one’s laziness,” (نفض غُبار الكسل), or “being finished or rid of something” (سَئِم من المسألة، فقرّر نفض يدَيه منها; “He was fed up with the whole affair, so he decided to dust it from his hands.”) A similar sentiment is conveyed by the English expression, itself of ancient Hebrew origin, of “shaking the dust of something or someone from one’s feet.” As a related noun, “intifada” means “tremor, a shudder or a shiver.”

The First Palestinian Intifada: A Turning Point

It was in 1952 that the meaning of “intifada” took on its modern, political overtone of a “Middle East uprising,” when a series of protests shook the then-kingdom of Iraq in an attempt to force the king’s abdication in favor of a republic. It was then applied to Israeli-Palestinian conflict history when the first major Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation started, in 1987. Up until that point, there had been no conscious, organized resistance movement against the occupation. The First Palestinian Intifada was the result of Palestinian recognition — led largely by women and students — that they would have to take their future into their own hands and could no longer wait for the international community to intervene on their behalf. Activists at that time chose the word “intifada” because it implied resistance that was aggressive but nonviolent. Palestinians were shaking off the dust of the occupation.

Media Influence on Intifada Perception

In her book A Quiet Revolution: The First Palestinian Intifada and Nonviolent Resistance, historian and activist Mary Elizabeth King largely blames the media for shifting the meaning of “intifada” in the Western mind and possibly even contributing to the escalating violence, detailing how international TV crews would avoid coverage of peaceful protests but focused in on rock-throwers and then the increasingly militant actions taken in response to heavy-handed Israeli reprisals. By the time the First Intifada ended in 1993, “intifada” was no longer associated with non-violence; the ground was thus laid for the Second Intifada, which arose from the failure of the Oslo Accords and lasted from 2000 to 2005, involving indisputable terrorist activities like suicide bombings and rocket attacks. Both uprisings were characterized by a heavy loss of life on the Israeli side and roughly three times as many losses on the Palestinian side.

The Second Palestinian Intifada had a profound impact on Palestinian-Israeli relations, contributing to a shift in Israeli attitudes and more relevance for Hamas, with increased skepticism toward the peace process and the two-state agreement.

Modern Misapplications of “Intifada”

On December 5, 2023, the presidents of Harvard, MIT, and the University of Pennsylvania were called into a hearing of the U.S. Congress to discuss allegations of growing antisemitism on their campuses as a result of the War on Gaza. During that hearing, Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York equated chants of “intifada” with a call for genocide against Jews. While the rise of Hamas and its terrorism cannot be denied, the term “intifada” significantly predates it. By no means is intifada a call to genocide or indiscriminate violence against Jews or, for that matter, Israelis.

The discussion and subsequent uproar over the presidents’ responses underline the importance of an accurate understanding of this controversial term. Given the gravity of the current situation in Palestine, it’s time to shake off our biases and ensure that our discourse is guided by integrity in our communications, informed by a sound knowledge of history.

woman waving Palestinian flag and making peace sign

Photo by Idriss Belhamadia

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mikaela Bell is a freelance editor and content writer with a background in anthropology and linguistics. An American based in France, she is also fond of reading, cooking, studying languages, fibercrafts and Irish stepdance.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Alice Zanini is a copywriting intern at NaTakallam. She is currently pursuing her bachelor’s degree in linguistics and Middle Eastern studies. Her research focus is on sociopolitical and sociolinguistic issues in modern Turkey and the Persian-speaking world.

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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.

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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.

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10 Common Misconceptions About Refugees | NaTakallam

10 Common Misconceptions About Refugees

Reading Time: 9 minutes

In our modern era of clickbait headlines and 280-character debates, refugees often suffer from negative stereotyping and popular misconceptions like so many other marginalized communities.

NaTakallam’s tutors, teachers, interpreters, and translators come from diverse personal and professional backgrounds – each with unique skills and experiences that are often misconstrued by simplistic generalizations.

NaTakallam is committed to unpacking facts from fiction. We seek to reshape and reclaim narratives about refugee and displaced populations and promote understanding through fact-based discussions.

This World Refugee Month, NaTakallam hopes that employers and communities around the world will continue to work towards a better understanding of the rich contribution that individuals impacted by displacement can offer their communities and workplaces.


Myth 1: Most refugees restart their lives comfortably in new countries.

Fact: Less than 1% of refugees are resettled into new countries.


Resettlement is still a rare phenomenon, even though millions are eligible. In 2020, resettlement numbers hit a record low in the past two decades, according to a UNHCR report. Even though the US increased their refugee ceiling in 2021 to 62,500, a total of only 11,411 were resettled in the fiscal year – a mere 18% of the announced target. Even if successful, the resettlement process often takes years, and the journey of starting life anew in a foreign country can be extremely hard, especially in the face of new legal and educational systems, foreign languages, and cultural norms. 

NaTakallam works with skilled refugees who are often stuck in limbo, cut off from local labor markets, in camps or other transit circumstances. Therefore, each language session with NaTakallam makes important and meaningful contributions to their livelihoods and overall sense of belonging.

Sources: UN, UNHCR (Report), UNHCR (Data finder), Immigration Forum.



Myth 2: Most displaced persons flee to the US, Europe and Australia

Fact: 75% of displaced persons are hosted in developing countries.


Contrary to common belief and misleading headlines, only a small fraction of resettled refugees are hosted in developed countries of the West. From the 108.4 million forcibly displaced people today, the US admitted just over 25,000 refugees in 2022, using only 20% of the admissions target set by the Biden administration. In 2022, the EU resettled only 16,695 refugees despite promising to resettle more than 20,000 refugees. Most are forced into limbo states, with no legal residency or work status. 

The majority of displaced persons that NaTakallam works with have fled to neighboring developing countries. As of the end of 2023, the leading host countries include Iran (3.8 million refugees), Turkey (3.3 million), Colombia (2.9 million), Germany (2.6 million) and Pakistan (2 million). Together, they accommodate 39% of the global refugee population.

Sources: UNHCR, Amnesty, Immigration Forum, CBC News, International Rescue Committee


Myth 3: Most refugees are adults.


Fact: Over 40% of refugees are under 18.

Not all refugees are adults. According to the UNHCR, an estimated 36.5 million of the world’s 100 million displaced people are under the age of 18. Furthermore, an estimated 12.5 million of the 27.1 million refugees are child refugees. Between 2018 and 2020, an average of between 290,000 and 340,000 children were born into a refugee life per year. Today, there are over 1 million children in the world who were born as refugees.

This demographic breakdown holds true for almost every regional crisis. Though children make up about a third of the global population, they constitute 40% of the world’s refugees. This dynamic is a significant concern, as contemporary child migration is often inhumane, unregulated, and dangerous. Moreover, an additional obstacle for refugee children seeking asylum is the fact that many of them go through this process without adult support. 

Source(s): UNHCR, UNICEF, Concern USA, UN News


Myth 4: Many refugees have smartphones so they must be well off.


Fact: Smartphones are a lifeline for refugees, not a luxury.


For refugees, smartphones provide access to essential and potentially life-saving information. Smartphones are used to find food, shelter, and assistance, navigate new areas, communicate with loved ones, and even earn a living through virtual work. Refugees often spend up to a third of their disposable income to afford connectivity and opportunities that come with a smartphone, according to Amnesty International.

In the era of what some have dubbed “the connected refugee,” NaTakallam provides opportunities for refugees to work as online language tutors, interpreters, and translators for users worldwide. 

Sources: UNHCR, Forbes, GSMA, Amnesty 




Myth 5: Most refugees live in camps.

Fact: Over 60% of refugees live in urban areas.


 Contrary to the frequent images of sprawling refugee camps in the media, over 60% of refugees and more than 80% of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) live in urban areas. This has presented a new set of challenges: resources are often less concentrated and humanitarian assistance is less plentiful, meaning that individuals can miss vital information and aid more easily.

NaTakallam works with displaced persons in both urban areas and refugee camps to ensure no one is marginalized due to their current circumstances. We leverage technology in a way that ensures accessibility for all users. 

Sources: UN Refugees, UNHCR, The Brookings Institute 



Myth 6: Refugee influxes ruin economies and communities.

Fact: Studies show that refugees can have positive fiscal and social impacts.


The notion that admitting refugees will ruin a host country’s economy is rooted in false economic beliefs. Over time, it has been shown that refugees actually add more value to the economy than the initial cost of resettlement – if they are granted the right to work legally. Moreover, studies show that low-skilled foreign workers and low-skilled domestic workers tend to complement each other rather than compete. In the US, refugees add billions to the economy, and experts assert that they will play a vital role in helping economies recover after the pandemic.

What is more, contrary to political narratives, studies consistently show that refugees are less likely to commit crimes, engage in “antisocial” behavior, or be arrested. In fact, higher immigration is generally associated with much lower crime rates. 

Many of NaTakallam’s displaced tutors are barred from local employment due to legal restrictions – leaving them vulnerable to the black market and unsafe work. NaTakallam allows refugees to make an income legitimately and safely, regardless of their location.

Sources: Immigration Forum, University of Oxford, Business Insider, Economic Research Forum, Global Citizen



Myth 7: Most refugees are from the MENA region.


Fact: The largest groups of refugees are from Afghanistan, Syria and Venezuela.


While the news is often inundated with talk about refugees from the Middle East and North Africa region, over 72% of refugees arriving in the United States are actually not from the MENA region. As of 2022, the conflict and humanitarian crisis in Ukraine has forced more than 8.2 million people to flee the country with 5.9 million internally displaced. Followed by 5.4 million Syrian refugees hosted within the MENA region, with over 6.8 million internally displaced, and 5.2 million refugees from Afghanistan, of which 47% are children, and 3.3 million internally displaced. Furthermore, countries such as Venezuela, Burkina Faso, Myanmar, and Eritrea, among many more, are grappling with conflict and displacement issues, yet are frequently overlooked.

Sources: UNHCR, UNHCR Syria, UNHCR Afghanistan, UNHCR Ukraine, Statista, NRC



Myth 8: Refugees never return home to their native countries.


Fact: Most refugees would prefer to go home, and many do.


Popular narratives paint refugees as “economic migrants” who come to profit from the opportunities of more developed countries and never return to their home countries. This is a misconception. According to various surveys done across the world, most refugees are understandably reluctant to go home when the situation remains unsafe. However, from a sample survey of 1,100 displaced Syrians, an overwhelming majority, around 73%, say they would return home if the conditions were right.

Another report showed that in 2019 alone, 46,500 refugees voluntarily returned to the Central African Republic. What refugees seek is physical safety, dependable work, and sustainable housing, and the majority agree that if this were available in their home country, they would return. NaTakallam enables refugees to have reliable, consistent work as language tutors and translators in Arabic, Armenian, English, French, Kurdish, Persian, Russian, Spanish, Ukrainian and more.

Sources: UN refugee statistics, Washington Post, Relief Web, The National, UNHCR report



Myth 9: Refugees don’t make for good employees.


Fact: Refugees can be a long-term economic advantage for companies.


Employers say it best: when it comes to refugees, “they come to work and get the job done.” Research from the Fiscal Policy Institute (FPI) in 2018 highlights that in addition to being hardworking, refugees often stay with their employers for longer and speak a foreign language – a highly desirable skill for any global company. 

Furthermore, in a Tent Partnership for Refugees report (also backed by the FPI), many businesses that hired refugees stated that they were among their most dedicated workers. Employee turnover rates were much lower among refugee employees than in the general population – thus, saving businesses money. 

Sources: UN, Fiscal Policy Institute, Business Insider, Tent Partnership for Refugees.



Myth 10: “There’s nothing I can do to help refugees.”


Fact: Each person can make a difference in supporting refugees.


Everyone can do something. Whether it is welcoming refugees into your own community, raising awareness about the cause, or supporting refugee-centered organizations, you have the power to make an impact beyond donations.

And if you are looking to support refugee livelihoods directly, amidst the fastest-growing displacement crisis of our time, consider bringing NaTakallam into your home, classroom, or office setting for your language-learning, cultural exchange, or translation needs. Change a life, one refugee at a time.


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5 Incredible Latin American Feminists You Need To Know

Reading Time: 3 minutesBlog contributor: Maria Thomas

Women’s History Month or any day of the year, here are 5 Latin American feminists you need to know and celebrate!

1. Frida Kahlo (Mexico, 1907-1954)

Frida Kahlo was a Mexican artist known for her paintings that explored themes of female subjectivity, sexuality and marginality. Through her highly symbolic canvases, many of which were built around her own self-portraits – for example, Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair, Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird – Kahlo eschewed gender stereotypes and gave voice to often taboo aspects of femininity.

2. Excilia Saldaña (Cuba, 1946-1999)

Excilia Saldaña was an award-winning Cuban essayist, poet, translator, academic and author of children’s books. Her works – including the book, La Noche (‘The Night’), poems such as My Name (A Family Anti Elegy) and short stories like Kele Kele – were very important contributions to the creation and consolidation of a tradition of Afro-Hispanic women writers and artists.

3. Cecilia Vicuña (Chile, 1948-)

Cecilia Vicuña is a Chilean poet and multidisciplinary artist. Her works, which include collections of poems such as Precario/Precarious (1973) and Unravelling Words and Weaving Water (1992), and art installations such as Could-Net and Quipu Menstrual, are grounded in her understanding that the political, environmental and indigenous are inherently connected and must be addressed as such. Also, central to Vicuña’s works are her explorations of the connections between gendered injustice and environmental despoliation.

4. Selva Almada (Argentina, 1973-)

Selva Almada is an Argentinian writer who is considered one of the most powerful voices of contemporary Argentinian and Latin American literature. She is also recognised as one of the most influential feminist intellectuals of the region. Her works, particularly her book,  Dead Girls – originally published originally in Spanish as Chicas Muertas in 2014 – highlight issues such as gendered violence, femicide and the legal inadequacies of Argentinian legal systems in addressing them.

5. Clarice Lispector (Brazil, 1920-1977)

Clarice Lispector was an Ukranian-born Brazillian novelist and short-story writer. Her family fled Western Ukraine to escape the pogroms that followed World War I and the Russian Civil War. Her works written in Portuguese include short story collections such as Laços de família (‘Family Ties’) and Para não esquecer (‘Not to Forget’), and novels such as Perto do coração selvagem (translated and published in English as Near to the Wild Heart), A Paixão segundo G.H. (translated and published in English as The Passion According to G.H.). French feminist writer Hélène Cixous credits her works with “exploring women’s identity with a depth that no one has achieved until now”.

Learn Spanish and explore the worlds of these inspirational women with NaTakallam!

We are a women-led and women-fueled community that offers language sessions in Spanish, among other languages. Our Latin American native language tutors are individuals who have been displaced from countries like Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Guatemala, and are currently resettled in neighboring countries such as Uruguay, Costa Rica, the United States, Ecuador, Trinidad and Tobago, and Argentina. 

Brush up your Spanish skills, delve into Latin American cultures and experiences, and celebrate these incredible women, today and everyday!


This piece was contributed by Maria Thomas, a copywriter with NaTakallam. She is currently pursuing her doctoral studies in art history. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, powerlifting and going on hikes.

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