In 2013, Bailey Ulbricht spent two months volunteering in Reyhanlı, Turkey, a small town on the Turkey–Syria border. She met dozens of young Syrian college 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 to tutor and found ten 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 USA. In January 2017, the team expanded to include 25 staff members, and as of June 2021, we have an active staff of over 45, 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 youths attend university, compared to 34% of youths 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 improve educational opportunities for those who need it most. We focus on learners' skills to access future training, employment, and higher education in their country of residence or abroad. We further hope to break down politicized cultural barriers through live and personalized instruction and by encouraging cross-cultural understanding. We know that by fostering personal relationships, mentoring goes beyond the virtual classroom into the lives of our tutors and learners.
English is the most common language in the world for university-level instruction and is a common requirement for most universities worldwide. Proficiency in English provides higher earning potential for individuals of all ages who are affected by conflict, and it opens doors to further education and experiential learning through skills training programs—like our own—which are often taught in English. Speaking English and the language of the host country can eliminate barriers to public education, institutional support, and employment within the country. These skills can also 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 find employment opportunities. By working in these technical fields, individuals help fill job gaps in countries like Turkey and Lebanon and often have remote work or flexible hours.