The project in brief
The project is implemented by AILEM worldwide but mainly in the UK, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany. It began in February 2021, and is still ongoing.
AILEM is the world’s first language learning app tailored for refugees and asylum seekers. Our ethos is to create an app for refugees, by refugees. The app is shaped by the ideas, opinions, experiences of refugees and asylum seekers we work with. Our app currently has three main features, AILEMmap, AILEMcurriculum and AILEMexchange.
We have four key goals that guides our project:
- Relevancy - ‘Made by refugees for the refugees’ Through the panel we strive to make content that is relevant to refugee’s lives. By growing our panel to having more feedback from our target users will help us reach this goal. We started our app as a solution to help our community, we work closely with refugees and try to integrate their unique experiences in the app.
- Empowerment - Language education to empower refugees and asylum seekers to be able to express themselves. One example is a conversation between Omar and Marie, exchanging about Belgium and Arab celebration. Language can empower refugees to help them integrate in a new society, allowing them not only to access basic services such as food and transport, but also to express and voice out their own opinions, challenges, and culture. Language is the catalyst of social inclusion and multicultural understanding, hoping to bridge the gap between the different cultures for social equality.
- Accessibility - We aim to put as much content as possible offline to be accessed without the internet (except to download the app), even in refugee camps. With future features, we strive to continue to have offline access.
- Privacy - All data in our app is fully encrypted including but not limited to passwords, emails, names, levels and more. To reach this, we are working towards being fully compliant under the new GDPR law in Europe.
Our main resource is the use of technology to support refugees and asylum seekers. An application means that education can be accessed instantaneously and without the need of a present tutor. Refugees already use smartphones and social media platforms mainly for communication, information and navigation, all of which our app is actively addressing. The app breaks down physical and mobility barriers that are posed when a refugee is integrating and living in a refugee camp or settling down in the city.
Our business model from app revenue, grants and donations has funnelled into maintaining the operations of the app. We also use revenue to fund other language projects, namely the AILEM booklets with key phrases that are given to refugees and asylum seekers that just arrived in the country. We also hire refugees in our team, providing them with a financial source and building up soft skills. The stipend is one example of how the app provides simple employment to an underprivileged population.
Main activities of the Good Practice
Our app currently has three main features:
- AILEMmap: Allows users to easily access a summary of phrases that can be used in any situation, quick access and available without internet.
- AILEM Curriculum: Learn through reading stories that revolve in common conversations from introductions to ordering food at a restaurant, ensuring that the refugees have the language capabilities to express themselves and seek out services.
- AILEM Exchange: Connect with other students, teachers and users who are learning similar languages, allowing you to ask questions or share knowledge with each other. The exchange feature especially allows different stakeholders to engage together, refugees, teachers, humanitarian organisations like red cross, government and more.
Outside of the app, we aim to provide language booklets to incoming asylum seekers, to provide essential phrases for their initial time in a new country. We previously gave these booklets to young Ukrainian children who arrived in the country and started their first day of school.
UWC Network: the app project was started at UWC Atlantic College, one of 18 colleges around the world. UWC Atlantic inspires students to become Changemakers through lifelong commitment to service in the community, collaborative work and social engagement that develops in young people a sense of personal initiative. Majority of our team members are from UWC, building a strong and lasting connection with the organisation.
What challenges were encountered in delivering the project and how were they overcome?
One of the challenges is writing up new content and translating it. It requires a lot of manpower and a large dedicated group.
Another challenge is that w do not have a consistent stream of revenue such as a defined consumer. We need to ensure that we will have enough donations and grants to be able to cover our costs, especially when we start to expand and costs increase.
How they were overcome
Through working with teachers and mentors our team has established a unique standardised system to be able to create fun, interesting and reliable curricula for our target users. The interface and the style of teaching has gone through four major interactions, testing, and finally with time and effort as we reach towards our unique and innovative app idea.
For the future, we are going to adapt our business model with our new Business to Business to Consumer structure. Instead of charging refugees, we can charge NGOs or Asylum Camps for a per user subscription to gain revenue, financially sustainable for the long term. This feature is going to be our “AILEM classroom” feature that is currently in development and planned to launch by Summer of 2023.
Results of the Good Practice
- Refugees are able to have access to free and instant knowledge through our features.
- Refugees can learn at their own pace without the need to physically travel or be limited by the environment of refugee camps.
- Refugees have been posting content and posing questions to the team regarding challenges in the language.
- Booklets given to young Ukrainian children who arrived in the country and started their first day of school.
- Refugees were delighted to be able to lead on many of the key aspects of the app, from what buildings to include in our AILEM map, to ideas on structuring the curriculum.
"Language is the key to life!" - Shatat A., a refugee from Germany
In what way does the good practice meet one or more of the four objectives of the Global Compact on Refugees?
Objective 1: Ease the pressures on host countries
The use of the conventional "one-size-fits-all" approach has shown not to be tailored and slow to respond to the needs and situation of refugees and asylum seekers. The inability to express oneself means individuals can not access basic services, opportunities, resources, employment, healthcare and more, in general creating more challenges to rebuild a new life.
There is already pressure on local NGOs and groups to provide language education and though these programs exist, not all refugees and asylum seekers are aware of this and especially how to enroll in these programs. The exchange platform tackles this knowledge and coordination gap through simple posts on our channels.
Objective 2: Enhance refugee self-reliance
Our ethos is to “create an app for refugees, by refugees”, we achieve this by inputting the feedback and suggestions of refugees we have connected and interviewed, then integrating it into the app. The application is shaped by the ideas, suggestions and opinions of our refugee community. By doing so, we create a solution that is useful and relevant to the context and situation of refugees, to empower refugees and asylum seekers to be able to express themselves.
Taking the AILEM map, we have vocabulary of typical buildings that refugees have told us they go to, like supermarkets and schools. The app says the phrases out loud, and the refugees can repeat. The goal is to allow refugees to access basic services such as food and transport.
Later on, the AILEM curriculum builds up the refugee’s language abilities through reading stories, allowing them to learn new grammar and vocabulary. The curriculum also explores local culture and customs. The goal of these features is to allow refugees to build up their language ability to a level where they can engage in their own conversations with locals and feel more confident in the language.
Finally, the AILEM exchange connects refugees with other refugees and teachers in the area, building their own communities in their geographical region to support them in their integration endeavours.
Objective 3: Expand access to third-country solutions
Language is extremely crucial in many aspects of resettlement, including but not limited to allowing individuals to access higher education and employment, showing the importance of language education for capacity building. Family reunification is also linked with ideas of piloting hybrid education and labour programs. We are already looking to partner with “Restart Wales”, a government organisation that aims to break down barriers to job entry, for example language.
With this, we look to work closely and partner with government stakeholders and institutions, so far we have partly achieved this by aligning our English and French curriculums with the EU language standards (levels A, B, C).
Looking in the long term, language is essential for allowing refugees to express their own opinions, empowering them to speak out about refugee related issues and challenges. With a combination of our features, we use language as the catalyst of social inclusion and multicultural understanding, hoping to bridge the gap between the different cultures for social equality.
We have plans to expand with more languages and content to reach more refugees in other parts of the countries. We are looking to build our AILEM classroom web feature that connects refugees with organisations. As well as tapping into the potential of artificial intelligence to teach pronunciation.
Are there areas in which support would be required to continue and/or scale up your good practice?
South America, Jordan, East Asia and Eastern Europe are areas we are looking next to work with.