Staying Hopeful

This weekend, Refugee Code Academy is heading to one of the largest refugee camps in the world, where we will set up an on-site coding school. We’ve learned so much since we started our project two short years ago. Although the task ahead is daunting, we remain determined, and very enthusiastic about seeing what the process can teach us. Today, there is a growing and global focus on working with refugees. Greater numbers of refugees also mean more challenges: concerns around basic needs and economic sustainability accompany any attempt to provide new channels for education to the displaced.

Last week, our team was at UNESCO headquarters for Mobile Learning Week 2017, where we were able to explore new uses for technology in the refugee crisis. There is a desire among tech organisations to collaborate and provide holistic and meaningful services that actually improve people’s lives. At Mobile Learning Week, we were able to connect with organisations working all over the world and discuss solutions to some challenging questions related to our work. Being in a room full of like-minded individuals with a shared mission to better the world through technology was inspiring, to say the least.

THE PROCESS OF OBTAINING ACCESS TO PROVIDE SERVICES IN A REFUGEE CAMP… IS CHARACTERISED BY A LOT OF RED TAPE, MANY EMAILS, AND MUCH SCHEDULING AND RESCHEDULING.

At the same time, there was a palpable sense of frustration. This was largely due to collective dissatisfaction with the governing bodies with whom most of us had dealt while trying to implement various programmes to benefit refugees. For our team in particular, this feeling has been exacerbated by the hiccoughs we’ve continually faced in getting the appropriate documentation and permissions to enter the Nyarugusu refugee camp. The process of obtaining access to provide services in a refugee camp is tedious and far from straightforward. It is characterised by a lot of red tape, many emails, and much scheduling and rescheduling. As we began to focus on expanding our work to Nyarugusu in Tanzania, we were discouraged by the lack of cooperation from authoritative parties. Of course we understand the delicate processes at work which allow these administrative agencies to operate. Nevertheless, newer groups of social innovators like us see these constant barriers and think, there has to be a better way.

While this may seem like a naive response, perhaps one characteristic of twenty-somethings familiar with tech instead of with the humanitarian sector, this question is one that must still be asked: is there a better way? In view of a political gridlock arising out of crisis-level displacement statistics, we believe that it is extremely important to for everyone in human rights organisations to interrogate their existing practices and motives. Are these practices the most productive way? The way that will help the most people? The way that makes the most sense for everybody?

While governmental and non-governmental agencies alike must ask themselves this question, we believe that, even as different organs, we work better when unified. “It is essential for us [the UNHCR] to be more flexible and agile and we need to rely much more on partnerships and cooperation,” Secretary-General António Guterres said back in 2006. We believe this aim should be borne in mind now more than ever.

AS WE GET READY TO ENTER ONE OF THE LARGEST REFUGEE CAMPS IN THE WORLD TO SET UP AN ONSITE DIGITAL CODING SCHOOL WE FEEL — ABOVE ALL THINGS — HOPEFUL.

The demographic and resource-related problems we are all working to solve aren’t going anywhere. Now especially, governing bodies and organisations must work together to help the refugees who need it most. Through our work, we’ve also discovered the importance of communication, not only between organisations, but between media outlets and their consumers. Today’s migration problem is vast, and often hard to keep track of, but ensuring that the public are informed is now crucial. The sad truth is that many people don’t know about events of recent years which have been less widely reported on than, for instance, the Syrian Civil War, but which have nevertheless led to high levels of displacement. Mass killing and terror in Burundi, which by late 2015 had reportedly caused 200,000 people to desert their homes to seek refuge, is one of many examples. Emily Arnold-Fernandez of Asylum Access explains that while “this has gotten almost no attention in the popular mind-set… people are being forced to leave their homes behind. And nobody is noticing.” More thorough communication between media outlets and their consumers is clearly called for to facilitate a greater recognition of the needs of refugees globally.

As global citizens, we ask you to take notice and to keep an open mind. As for us, we are excited to be a part of a process that brings life-changing education to those who need it most. Regardless of the challenges we face as an organisation, we are dedicated to our mission and are looking forward to building strong partnerships. We left the UNESCO’s 2017 Refugees Coding Camps Strategy Lab event in Paris feeling humbled to be a part of something greater, and feeling fortunate in the knowledge of how many people want to help the displaced. As we get ready to enter one of the largest refugee camps in the world to set up an onsite digital coding school we feel — above all things — hopeful.