Veterans’ Buddy Box learning tool brings big smiles to Ukrainian refugees

A British Armed Forces veteran’s educational resource has helped break down language barriers for Ukrainian refugees in UK schools, leaving them with ‘big smiles’.

Called “Buddy Box”, the resource uses text, images and audio to translate languages ​​such as Arabic, Afghan Dari and Pashto, and recently Ukrainian, into English, and vice versa and was created by veteran and entrepreneur Mark Hill, 52, of Garrison Catterick in North Yorkshire.

“The feedback has been incredible. The teachers said watching young people’s expressions as they heard their own language in the classroom was remarkable,” Mr Hill told the PA news agency about the impact of Buddy Box on Ukrainian refugees.

“They hear their own language and it’s big smiles, Buddy Box continues to break down language and communication barriers.”

The free digital resource was created in 2018 to support Syrian and Iraqi children.

An Afghan version was made in 2021 and a Ukrainian version after the Russian invasion of the country, with the cloud-based learning tool available online for anyone who can use it, via a downloadable link or via e- mail.

So far, Buddy Box links have been emailed to around 112 schools and local authorities in the UK.

Mr Hill added that one of the best parts of Buddy Box is that it “can be used at home so the whole family can learn and engage as a family unit”.

The communication learning tool has also been featured in a journal of the National Association for Language Development In the Curriculum – the trade association for those who work with and for children learning English as an additional language in the UK United – this year.

Meanwhile, Mr Hill continued to support girls in Afghanistan at a time that marks just over 300 days since they were banned from school by the Taliban.

Afghan Buddy Box is now present in three provinces of Afghanistan and supports a hundred girls.

Girls supported by Buddy Box in Afghanistan – their faces have been blurred to protect their identities (Medhi Nazari/PA)

A school last week shared a photo showing young Afghan girls holding thank you posters for Mr Hill, which he described as an “incredible achievement”.

He said: “I believe that education is a human right and that everyone, regardless of their background in the world, should have access to an education.

“I put a lot of work into Buddy Box – many hours with the support of my Afghan friend and translator Mehdi Nazari who supported me with text and audio in Dari and Pashto.

“Mehdi is our link to support girls in Afghanistan. This project is something that both of us are passionate about. It’s inspiring to receive feedback from teachers saying how Buddy Box is making a huge difference. All the hard work was worth it.

Mr Hill said he had a “vision” to take Buddy Box “around the world” in Africa and across the Indian subcontinent.

He is in talks with the Refugee Council to have the resource listed on the government website.

“From government to local authorities, to educational institutions and other governing bodies responsible for looking after young refugees, it goes in all directions,” he added.

Topics such as the alphabet, numbers, colors, shapes, time, days of the week, months of the year, fruits and vegetables, basic conversations, classroom items and more still are covered by Buddy Box.

Mr Hill has started a GoFundMe to raise enough money to set up a website, to make it easier for Buddy Box to help those who need it most – to find out more about the project visit

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