When World Refugee Day was first introduced by the United Nations in 2000, it was a rare opportunity to raise awareness of the huge challenges facing refugees fleeing from violence, food insecurity and drought - a much needed opportunity to encourage the media to shine a light on the human stories behind the statistics.
Today, 16 years later, the world is a very different place and barely a day goes by without the world's rapidly worsening refugee crisis making the headlines. Only today, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)announced that the number of people displaced by conflict is at the highest level ever recorded.
But today's annual recognition of people who are displaced from their homes is needed now more than ever as nations struggle to find solutions for the crisis. The UNHCR estimates that there are 1.1 million people who need to be resettled in 2016 - an increase of 22 per cent compared with the 2015.
For people who have been forced to leave their homes and family and who have often been through a traumatic and dangerous journey, the chance to make a phone call home to relatives to let them know that they're alive is an absolute priority. The Vodafone Foundation has been providing free WiFi and phone charging to refugees arriving in Greece - working with the UNHCR and Télécoms Sans Frontières to provide WiFi in resettlement camps as well as along the coast where boats first arrive.
Between November 2015 and May this year, we've provided 12,744 GB of free data to refugees in Greece to connect with their loved ones in other countries- the equivalent to over 15 million call minutes on WhatsApp or 1.7 billion short WhatsApp messages.
And Europe is not the only place where technology is having a positive impact on the lives of refugees. The lack of educational resources in many of the schools in the refugee camps in Africa has meant that young refugees, who spend an average of 17 years displaced from their homes, do not have the tools they need to learn and develop. Tablet-based learning is providing a much-needed resource in camps such as Dadaab in Kenya - a refugee settlement with 350,000 inhabitants and one the largest refugee camps in the world.
Teachers in Dadaab have reported a positive change in students since the introduction of the Instant Network Schools programme - a partnership between the Vodafone Foundation and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to provide tablet-based teaching.
School enrolment and attendance levels have increased, and children now arrive at school on time, or even early. They are motivated and excited by their lessons, where up-to-date and interactive resources have replaced often out-of-date and poor quality books. And the portable Instant Classroom, a 'digital school in a box' https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kgtqSwtyPOQ means schools without electricity and broadband connectivity are also benefitting from tablet-based teaching.
Maureen Mwikail Kamunii, a primary school teacher in Dadaab says that the programme is improving the overall well-being of the students, increasing confidence as the tablet-based learning model encourages child-centered learning: "When they find out information for themselves...it really makes them engage with the subject."
Language barriers are a huge challenge for both teachers and students as many students arrive at the camp with very limited English and Swahili, and so translation apps are being used to great effect, enabling better communication and more effective teaching.
Access to technology is also having a profound effect on the children's knowledge of the world outside the camp. Many of the children were born in the camp so have never seen an ocean or a river, but can now search for images and videos for the first time.
Julia Mugogwa Shirwatzo, a history teacher in a secondary school says that the technology "helps [the students] begin to make the changes that they will need to prepare for life outside of school, and maybe outside of the camp. It has raised their aspirations."
At the Vodafone Foundation we believe that this link to the outside world can be a 'game changer' for students in refugee camps and will be critical for the long-term future of those children and their communities.
Our work with refugee communities began more than 10 years ago and today 25,000 young refugees a month in schools in Kenya, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania and South Sudan are benefitting from a digital education. The next phase is to roll out advanced digital learning resources based on the curriculum of each host country, working with our partner Learning Equality. Our ambition is to bring mobile education to three million young people by the end of 2020.
As the spotlight today turns to the unprecedented scale and complexity of displacement in the world, we hope that the power of technology to empower and improve lives will be at the forefront of people's minds. We are yet to understand the full impact of connecting the unconnected of the world, but anyone who has witnessed the instant, transformative power of connectivity for children in places like Dadaab cannot doubt the potential that's within our grasp.
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