In Jordan, technology is serving refugees

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Rana Kelani is an Iraqi refugee who arrived in Jordan four years ago. In the last year, she has learned how to code, found work and started working on her social app. In short, an example of integration.

The country hosts 89 refugees per 1,000 inhabitants and 736,396 refugees in total, according to the UNCHR. These numbers contradict with those stated by Jordanian authorities.

Recently, technology is turning into a vector of integration for refugees in Jordan, with more stakeholders involved. The Techfugees Jordan Hackathon for Syrians and Iraqis and the RBK code training program, aim to offer innovative tech solutions to assist the displaced.

Work together

The Techfugees Jordan Hackathon, which was organized in Amman at the Zain Innovation Campus in early May, attracted 40 participants, half of whom were refugees.

One of the goals of Techfugees, an association created a year and a half ago in London by TechCrunch journalist Mike Butcher, is to enable refugees and locals to meet and mutually learn. [Disclosure: former participant, I write blog articles for the French chapter of Techfugees]

“They're [refugees] going to be the main center of attention and that's so rare,” explained Josephine Goube, CEO of Techfugees. “Quite often, our events end in tears of joys. For the first time, we do not regard refugees as a problem, but as a resource and an opportunity,” she continued.

Techfugees is not the only organization willing to use tech to bring displaced people closer to Jordanians.

RBK is a four-month coding training program available for free to both refugees and Jordanians. It aims to help refugees acquire the needed labor skills and enable them to work along Jordanians beyond their prejudices.

Syria's Fatima Himmamy, 26, who was working on the same project as Rana Kelani during the hackathon, joined RBK as a technical mentor after graduating. For her, the program makes it possible to prove to the refugees, who are often poorly treated by locals, that Jordanians do not wish them any harm. “RBK wants to change the perception [they have].”

“It was great to see the barriers fall,” said Mais Abu Jarur, a Jordanian hackathon participant who switched from marketing to coding through RBK. Though some RBK participants had a negative perspective about Syrians and refugees, but by the end of the program, they all became friends. “[This program] brought together participants from different cultural and religious backgrounds,” she said.

The 17 graduates from the first class have all found jobs in large companies. The 30 recent graduates of the second class are on track. This is considered to be a great achievement as  refugees do not have the right to work in Jordan. They also have to convince companies to face administrative hurdles to hire them. Many RBK members were present at the Techfugees hackathon.

Three challenges

Techfugees worked with Unicef Jordan and the Queen Rania Foundation to define three key challenges in the country:

  • Water leakage: the water loss caused by the dilapidated state of pipes (50 percent of the country’s water) creates tensions between the communities and the refugees.

  • School inequalities: boys aged between 10 to 17 years leave school at higher rates than girls of the same age, seeking jobs that would improve their situation. This, however, puts the future of the region at risk.

  • Unemployment: the number of unemployed people is very problematic outside camps and cities.

Enthusiastic participants had to find inspiration and try to create  innovative ideas and apps that would solve these problems.

Rana Kelani and Fatima Himmamy take advantage of the expertise of a mentor. (Image via Techfugees)

Numerous ideas popped up during the training program: A platform that helps refugees show their professional experiences, an app to convince boys to go to school, or sensors to warn of water leaks, to name a few.

Projects for the long term

The jury awarded the projects that had the most potential and the teams that showed a desire to continue to invest.

Leakless, a system of sensors that send a notification when a leak is detected won the first prize.

Waterwatch, a project by Rana Kelani, won the second place. It lets users take a picture of leaking pipes and warn municipalities. Kelani plans to continue her project with her partner Fatima Himmamy. Their mentor, Hiba Abu Al Rob, a water specialist at Unicef Jordan, offered them advisory and assistance during the hackathon to pursue their efforts and deploy the project.

The third prize went to Decornerd, a site allowing foreigners to buy decoration products created by displaced or Jordanian people.

This would not be the first time a project comes to life after a Techfugees event in Jordan. Last November, Techfugees organized a challenge at a Startup Weekend event. The winning team was at this year’s hackathon to present its progress.

The Profugees team 

Profugees is a crowdfunding platform developed by three students to finance refugee stories and projects. Since the Startup Weekend, the project has been on constant progress. Two new people have joined the team allowing Profugees to win the famous Hult Prize student competition in Jordan and participate in the regional finale in Dubai. The venture also won the Mashrooi Tharouti award. The financial prizes from these awards are helping the team purchase equipments and continue testing and iterating. The team is still trying to figure out the best payment solution for their business model.

Feature image via Techrefugees


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