Veteran makes Afghan ‘buddy boxes’ to help refugees in UK schools

Veteran Mark Hill makes Afghan ‘buddy boxes’ to help refugees in UK schools (Mark Hill/PA)
Veteran Mark Hill makes Afghan ‘buddy boxes’ to help refugees in UK schools (Mark Hill/PA)

An armed forces veteran has made ‘buddy boxes’ to help Afghan refugees learn English in schools.

Mark Hill, 52, a veteran and entrepreneur from Catterick, North Yorkshire said when he heard the news of the evacuation flights to the UK, he wanted to help young Afghans entering the UK school system feel welcome.

The digital Afghan Buddy Box is a free digital resource created and designed in Microsoft PowerPoint and made available online for teachers to use in their classes.

It makes use of text, pictures and audio to translate Dari and Pashto to English, and is being used in more than 50 schools, including internationally.

“I’ve now got (Afghan) Buddy Box in a couple of areas in Germany and in France ” Mr Hill told the PA news agency.

“If you are coming out of Afghanistan… regardless of where you settle around the world, you still speak your native language.

“One teacher in Selby, North Yorkshire, got back to me and said, it was just a picture to see this young boy’s face when he heard his own accent, his own language.

“The only thing I had to work on was the host nation’s language, but this text to speech technology I’ve got, it’s so good.”

Mr Hill’s Buddy Box idea first came about in 2018 when he visited a school in North Yorkshire and met four children, three of them Syrian refugees and one Iraqi.

He spoke to the children in Arabic and noticed that “instantly the kids had beaming smiles”.

Initially Buddy Box started off as a physical carboard box that was filled with around 60 Arabic/English flashcards.

Original Buddy Box in 2018 (Mark Hill/PA).

The name came from UK schools’ buddy programmes, where new students are often ‘buddied up’ with another pupil who helps them to settle in.

The Afghan Buddy Box covers days of the week, numbers, colours, fruits and vegetables, school items, time, and more.

Mr Hill said the feedback had been amazing, adding: “If you have a simple, basic language to communicate with others in their language, it really goes a long way.”

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