Four NYU Abu Dhabi students have volunteered to support a virtual training program that prepares refugee learners for the competitive global workforce. Working with Na’amal, an organization that wants to rewrite the narrative for refugee employment by supporting refugees and other vulnerable populations through skills training and mentorship, the students are putting in the hours despite the difficulty of volunteering in a virtual environment.
Like any experience, virtual volunteering also comes with its own unique set of challenges, one of which is connectivity. As volunteers, the student volunteers were responsible for overseeing online logistics and providing technical support for fifty learners located around the world. While essential for communication in a virtual setting, it is understandable that not everyone has equitable connectivity access.
Nonetheless, the benefits outweigh these challenges. While physical traveling is still restricted in some countries, Na’amal can still bring people together from around the world safely.
“When you're working virtually, there's no limit to the people that you can bring to the discussion. Na’amal brings coaches from England, South Africa, the UAE, and Ireland and learners from all over the world. I learned a lot from this diversity,” Alex Cho, from NYUAD Class of 2022 said.
Insights into the journeys of refugee learners
By fostering trust in a virtual space, the NYUAD students gained a deeper understanding of the life experiences and obstacles faced by the learners in this program. They also began to question their definition and perceptions of the term refugee.
“I was aware that there are refugees who are very qualified for professional roles… this experience and seeing how the learners enter classes and participate, seeing their interests and how they care about the world, it made me really want to challenge the notion of ‘refugee’ as a title,” Cadence Cheah from the Class of 2023 said.
Talk the Talk
When asked if it was worth volunteering in a virtual context, Cheah added, “Virtual volunteering is still necessary work. You are still needed there.” This was strongly echoed by Lorraine Charles, co-founder and director of Na’amal, who built the company as a virtual business long before COVID-19.
Charles has worked remotely for the past six years, and if anything, COVID-19 has further validated that important work such as refugee support “should not be hindered by geographical boundaries.”
Charles wants to demonstrate to international institutions, refugee-hosting countries, NGOs, and the private sector that allowing refugees to work remotely is a win-win situation. “Refugees can be employed and paid by (these) companies, addressing their talent gap. This means that refugees are more financially independent and require less public financial assistance; foreign revenue flows into the host country via salaries to workers, and governments receive a greater share of income tax.”
The collaboration between NYUAD Community Outreach and Na’amal will continue this summer: a new NYUAD cohort has already signed on to support the summer training program. “Our NYUAD volunteers have become an integral and valued part of the Na’amal family,” Charles said.