In the summer of 2013, Bailey Ulbricht spent two months volunteering in Reyhanli, Turkey, a small town on the Turkish-Syrian border, where she met dozens of young college-aged Syrian students desperate to complete their university degrees despite the conflict in Syria. She began Skyping a few of them to help them practice English, and soon, other young Syrian refugees were reaching out to her to request English lessons. Bailey realized she could ask people in her network to volunteer tutoring, and found 10 tutors from her alma mater, Carleton College, to join her in the first Paper Airplanes English language program in June 2014.
Paper Airplanes continued to grow, and in December 2016, Paper Airplanes received official nonprofit status in the United States. In January 2017, the team expanded to include 25 staff members, and as of June 2019 we have an active staff of 20+, many of whom are former students and tutors.
Our Mission is to Enable Learning Continuity
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), only 1% of refugee youth attend university, compared to 34% of youth around the world. Paper Airplanes helps these students complete their education, while also empowering them with skills for gainful employment.
We believe in the power of the internet to transform educational access for those who need it most. We focus on the skills learners need to access future training, employment, and higher education in their country of residence or abroad. Through live and personalized instruction, we further hope to break down politicized cultural barriers and encourage cross-cultural understanding. We know that by fostering personal relationships, mentoring goes beyond the virtual classroom into the lives of both our tutors as well as our learners.
English is the most common language in the world for university-level instruction and is a common requirement for most universities around the world. Proficiency in English provides higher earning potential for conflict-affected youth and adults, and opens doors for further education and experiential learning through skills training programs—like our own—which are often taught in English. Host country languages can eliminate barriers to public education, institutional support, and employment. English and key host country languages can provide access to remote employment or the labor market outside of the region.
In countries where formal education is inaccessible because of cost, language, or legal barriers, skills like coding and computer literacy help individuals affected by conflict to find employment opportunities. By working in these technical fields, individuals help fill job gaps in countries like Turkey and Lebanon and often have the option for remote work or flexible hours.