The Blog

A Well Told Story

While technology takes center stage in the world of Refugees United and our mission to reconnect separated refugee families, it is but an enabler.

While technology takes center stage in the world of Refugees United and our mission to reconnect separated refugee families, it is but an enabler. In order for us to help sometimes illiterate or semi-illiterate refugees navigate our mobile family tracing platforms to find missing loved ones, there's a lot more to it than a digital reach. If it were that 'simple', many of these families would never find it difficult to reconnect.

Refugee family tracing is a complex undertaking, working with displaced people in adverse locations following their escape from harm or hunger. The width of their technology expertise, for the most part, consists of understanding a basic mobile phone, being able to top up their airtime or send and receive calls and text messages. It is from this basic starting point that Refugees United provides its services, seeking to not only push a tech platform, but to grow an organic communications ecosystem that plays into the abilities of our beneficiaries.

While a lot of our time is spent developing the best services to assist refugees in signing up and searching for missing family through Refugees United, we're also focusing deeply on how best to reach our users through means and ideas available to them.

Targeting a user group that historically has been left out of the communications loop is challenging but a lot of fun and, always, very interesting. How do you not only reach but educate refugees from many varying countries and backgrounds about something as remote from their daily lives as an online/mobile platform meant to reconnect them with family members?

Many of them do not have the faintest idea what an online platform is, much less what it does and what it's connected to. They do, however, understand their entry-level mobile phones and how they're assisting them in access to information. Moreover, many of the younger refugees in various camps and urban areas are quickly catching up to the concepts of social networks and smart-phones, functioning as important teachers and champions of the Refugees United mobile phone tracing systems within their families and communities.

Finding the offline/on-ground/online interactions that link traditionally oral history peoples such as Somali refugees to our services is a challenge we've spent many hours trying to solve. This blog will focus on the kick-start of one of our newest initiatives with partners Well Told Story, based in Nairobi, Kenya.

Well Told Story has taken storytelling to specific audiences to a whole new level. One of their projects is Shujaaz, a Kenyan free newspaper that follows the character DJ Boyie's life in Kenya, dealing with social issues and working to get Kenyans to adopt new, smarter ways of living, working and thinking through storytelling. With a readership of more than 10 million people, their stories on how to deal with HIV, witch doctors and other daily occurrences through a continuously evolving series with a great and resonating cast is having a tremendous impact.

Refugees United and Well Told Story have now teamed up to join our efforts in reaching millions of refugees with brilliant stories focused on our tracing services and how they're accessible in camps and urban areas through simple mobile technologies.

Integrating stories fitted to refugee realities on separated families and how to reconnect will hopefully bring us to create a far greater dialogue with the various communities we help. We'll connect these magazine stories to our SMS outreach, helplines and other points of contact, including on-ground partners like the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and Kenya Red Cross, and circulate them heavily throughout refugee camps and urban areas.

The stories will be developed with the refugee communities for our messages to come not from us, but rather from the informed ranks of those we seek to help. These magazines and pamphlets, to be distributed to, among others, the more than 70,000 refugees we're already helping, will help us close the full circle of information, tying knowledge about our tracing services to concrete immediate actions to help refugee families reconnect by their own initiative.

And this is where we enter somewhat uncharted territory: Connecting our services through an information infrastructure in its growing stages. But development should sometimes, maybe often, start where experience ends. We founded Refugees United because we believed that the international refugee family tracing system could be vastly more efficient through centralised information sharing via mobile and web platforms. We weren't exactly sure how this would play out, but knew we wouldn't learn how to swim if we never got off the raft.