Leading with Arabic: How a Love of Language Helped Launch a Humanitarian Non-Profit
Texas native Hayley Smith first heard Arabic while studying abroad in London during college. Curious about the language, she later checked out a book on learning Arabic from her public library, and a lifelong love of this language that would shape her life and career was born. “It was like magic,” she explains. She first focused on learning the Moroccan dialect while living with a Moroccan family abroad, and eventually taught Arabic at the high school level back in the States.
Hayley recalls hearing about the Syrian refugee crisis in Greece and wanting to find a way to help, even though she didn’t know how. This is when she decided to create her own non-profit, Lifting Hands International (LHI). She regularly travels to Greece to speak directly with those involved in the crisis and to find out what supplies the refugee camps need, as it’s difficult to determine from overseas. In interactions during her visits, she lets the refugees know that she cares about them and wants to make their lives better.
“Just being able to interact with the people and talk with them. Ask them where they’re from. Who are you? What do you need now? They tell me what they need now, and I’m able to go to a store like I did today and buy several items.”
Hayley’s knowledge of Arabic allows her to travel widely and to learn new dialects. It provides her with opportunities for personal growth, meaningful connections, and community building. She describes Arab culture as very generous and loving, and she’d like to take that understanding back to the U.S.
“The way Arabic changed my life was the exposure to Arab culture. And I immediately loved the culture and the people.”
Have you ever wanted to do something to make a difference but didn’t know where to start? Are you interested in a future career involving humanitarian work? Languages are a great way to open pathways and connect with others you may not have otherwise encountered.
Check out our Lead with Arabic page for information on university programs, scholarships, and other stories from students and professionals who are using Arabic every day.