Several times a week, Syrian refugee Noor Al Kasseer uses Skype to teach conversational Arabic to students scattered across the world.
The income is helping her set up a new life with her husband in Italy, where they arrived two months ago after more than a year of living in one room of a shared flat in Lebanon.
While many may think of Syrian refugees as desperate, helpless and extremely poor, Ms Al Kasser is among a handful changing that narrative with the help of NaTakallam, a New York-based online platform that pairs them with Arabic learners around the world.
“Displaced Syrians in Lebanon don’t have a very promising future,” said Ms Sara. They typically cannot work legally and “many of them end up working in the black market on really low wages”.
Ms Al Kasseer, 28, used to be a biology and chemistry teacher at a school in the central Syrian city of Salamiyah before the escalating conflict forced her to flee in November 2015 and join an estimated 1.5 million refugees living in neighbouring Lebanon.
Ms Al Kasseer is facing the same difficulty finding work as a refugee in Italy, although she has applied for asylum. For now, she spends most of her time learning Italian and teaching Arabic via NaTakallam, which charges a fee of US$15 (Dh55) per hour for sessions via Skype.
The rest of the fee goes to NaTakallam to fund the business. Since its launch in August 2015, the start-up has managed to generate more than $120,000 for about 60 refugees.
The idea was born out of Ms Sara’s need to improve her conversational Arabic as a Lebanese-American living in New York. Although she and her co-founders, Anthony Guerbidjian and Reza Rahnema, focus mainly on displaced Syrians in Lebanon, NaTakallam also has teachers living in Armenia, Brazil, Canada, Egypt, France, Italy, Iraq, Germany and Turkey.
NaTakallam also helps to dispel negative stereotypes about refugees as the students engage with their teachers in conversations about politics, human rights, the arts and the daily struggles faced by displaced Syrians.