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David and Christopher Mikkelsen

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Bridging the Technical Divide in Refugee Camps

Posted: 17/11/2011 22:00

Young people are the future many say. They aren't, really, anymore than middle aged, old and newborn people are. The future of people lies in the hand of people, and how we engage with and treat each other. What shortcomings the inexperience of a youngster bestows upon the world should be balanced by the quiet wisdom of she who has already been there; same goes for the young outsmarting the old, where the energy of learning new things with no fear can easily be translated to generations older and less adept. How many times has our mum has been on the line trying to figure out her iPhone?

This balancing of skills is particularly helpful in the work of Refugees United and our mission to help separated refugee families reconnect. Picture yourself in Dadaab, the world's largest refugee camp with some 460.000 people, all having traversed hardships almost impossible to overcome in search of food and security. Massive numbers have lost contact with loved ones during their escape from Somalia and elsewhere, desperate for information that can lead them to reconnect.

Refugees United and partners deliver a decentralised tracing platform that allows for refugees to sign up, search and reconnect with missing family members through a simple mobile platform, available on entry-level phones; and phones are ubiquitous even in camps like Dadaab, where rampant destitution is everyday life.

Refugees United employs a string of talented and tech-savvy young refugees inside Dadaab, realising their potential to bridge the gap of information between young and old when it comes to mobile technology. Serving as tech-officers on behalf of Refugees United and our partners, these driven and energetic young men and women are taking it upon themselves to evangelise the abilities of our platform to reconnect families, tirelessly engaging with their communities to explain, demonstrate, assist and perpetuate.

We envision our technology as a simple enabler, a tool that in the hands of a caring individual can lead to families reconnecting after years of separation, as we're beginning to see more and more often. A tool that reduces the distance between giver and taker in the world of aid and is empowering young refugees to become active parts of a process that influence their own, and others', lives.

We have, on numerous occasions, had the pleasure of spending time with these young refugees, watching them grow into their roles as caretakers and givers, disseminating information across their camps and communities, proudly assisting the older generations. Recently, a young schoolteacher in Dadaab named Sirali assisted a woman in her fifties with finding her two daughters, whom she hadn't seen in 18 years, through Refugees United's platform. Separated when the children where but one and three years old, it was this teacher's insistence, his devotion to connecting his knowledge to a problem he believed he could solve, that led to this amazing reunion. We were fortunate enough to be present when they reconnected, to watch their unbridled joy, and the teacher's pride that his work had paid off... A true teacher comes in many disguises and ages.

Youths are indeed the future, but are walking the path youth before them have cleared. It is in recognising this trail, from start to finish, that we together can begin to draw maps that come to benefit us all. If Refugees United can in some way shed some light on the darkness ahead, we will be proud.

 

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