I’ve been volunteering for NGOs since my university years but I never thought I would start one myself one day; starting NGOs are for career driven young people, not the former high school dropout whose best day is spent tanning at the beach. But sometimes life takes you crazy places.
Back in 2010 I wanted people to practice my Arabic skills with and I found myself with no close Arab friends in my city of Malmö. Around the world language exchange meetings is a big thing and in Malmö you can for example practice French every other week, but Arabic seemed not to be on the agenda – despite the many Arab inhabitants of Malmö and the huge possibility of exchange. Complaining to a friend, she told me about an Arabic speaking girl she had met.
“I think she would be up for it,” my friend said. “Why don’t you send a message?”
This other girl was up for the idea and slowly me and her started to scrape together people to our language exchange meetings, held in Sunday afternoons in different coffee shops. Sometimes it was just her and I, waiting for people who didn’t show up. But we stayed put, spread the word among our friends, posted online, and by time more people dropped in. When all the emails and text messages got too much we finally decided to start a Facebook page to coordinate the activities. The Arabic-Swedish Network was born.
We are now more than 240 members in the Facebook group and new people join every week. We have no rules for membership other than that you have to be nice to each other; you don’t need to have speak certain level of Arabic or Swedish to join, if you speak none of the languages you can just join in and start from scratch (hey, there’s too many rules in the Swedish society anyways). New people who has arrived in Sweden and found the group online, takes the opportunity to introduce themselves on the wall and then shows up on the next meeting. As we are so many members nowadays people set up their own events: poetry and sheesha nights, dinner parties, breakfast meetings. I know of many who think Sweden is a difficult place to make new friends and getting in touch with Swedish people – our network is an exception.
Since November this year the Arabic-Swedish network is a registered NGO, we figured it was a good idea since we spend most of our free time on the network anyways; our homepage you’ll find here. Now where will this unplanned NGO go next? I don’t know, but if you’re around, drop in on any of our events – I guarantee you’ll have a good time.
Photo: Copyright Sweden and the Middle East Views Blog