William ScannellWilliam Scannell’s eye-opening trip to the Middle East as a 6-year-old sparked a desire to learn Arabic. Now, the fifth-grade CTYOnline student from Alaska is speaking, reading, and writing the language, and using his experiences to communicate with kids living in imperiled parts of the world.

William was just out of first grade when he first visited Jerusalem and other Middle Eastern cities with his father. In the airport on the way home, he told his dad he wanted to learn Arabic. He took his first class with CTYOnline in 2012 and picked up the language quickly. Now, three years later, he’s finishing up his seventh Arabic class.

“CTY is just pretty awesome and my instructors have been pretty nice and supportive of me even though I’m younger than everyone else,” he said.

William’s young age hasn’t held him back, said Mona Hammad, one of his CTYOnline instructors. “He was in a class of high-school students, and as the youngest student in the class, he excelled in all areas of language development.”

William takes his Arabic seriously. Last year he had a month-long immersion experience at the Collège des Frères, a Palestinian elementary school in east Jerusalem.

As William has learned more about the Arabic language and culture, his desire to reach out to kids in the region has grown. In 2013, he collected more than half a ton of winter clothing for Syrian children. And last fall, he created the Any Refugee project, through which anyone in the world can send a postcard to displaced children. To kick off the project, he convinced his classmates and his art teacher to spend about a week of class time creating postcards to send to Syrian refugee children in Lebanon.

The colorful cards they made included paintings of flowers, mountains, a snowman, and a seashell. One simply said, “We care for you.”

William and his father hand-delivered the postcards last month to students at schools run by the Jesuit Refugee Service in Lebanon.

“These kids were ever so delighted by the postcards,” William said. “Many held them like treasures.”

In turn, the Syrian and Iraqi refugee children made postcards for William to share with his classmates. Among their kind sentiments were also reflections of the terrible things some of the children have experienced: pictures of a tank shooting a man and of looters destroying a house.

William is hoping more students around the world will participate in the Any Refugee project.

“Think of it,” he said. “If this project expanded, so many children in the Middle East would be happy."

To learn more about the project, visit AnyRefugee.org.