Stories to Inspire #6: Let's hack the refugee crisis

ReDi, a coding-school for refugees, offers IT-programs, trainings and workshops, to create a solid base for its pupils to find their way in German society.

It is a question you will have heard a thousand times the last two years: ‘how can we incorporate refugees within the society of their host-country?’

When Anne Kjaer Riechert tried to answer this question, she noted something remarking: every time this topic came around, she was talking ABOUT refugees, not with them. She felt an urge to stimulate empowerment among refugees, to solve refugee-challenges together. But how?

It was not until Anne met Mouhamad that she came up with an idea. Back in Syria he studied computer science. War and displacement interrupted his studies but now he was safely living in Germany, he wanted to continue. Easily said, difficult to execute. Anna realized that many refugees shared the story of Mouhamad: amongst the newcomers there are incredible IT-talents, eager to learn, who want to contribute to Germany’s society and who could help fill the huge amount of open IT-jobs in Germany. However, although they want to study, they often do not have the money for materials, don’t meet the entry level of university, or are not legally allowed to enrol in official colleges or universities yet

How could it be that it is so hard to make use, trigger and develop the capacity slumbering within the young refugees entering Germany? There is, globally, a high demand for IT-specialist, so why not train them to jump in this gap?

This is how, after three months of co-creating, design thinking and focussing on social innovation, the idea to start a coding-school for refugees developed. At ReDI, a combination of Readiness and Digital Integration, they started to equip students with laptops, workstations in co-working spaces and access to technical mentors to work in project groups. They are focussing on a main question: How to use technology to improve the integration and lives of refugees in Germany?

Within the first semester, 42 students of multiple nationalities met in small classes to learn coding skills on donated laptops, in empty office-spaces, taught by volunteers. Not only did students learn how to use basic coding programmes like Javascript or Ruby on Rails, but the curricula focussed on a problem-solving mindset. Problems the students faced in their day-to-day life, during the process of integration. Apps with names like ‘Let’s integrate’ and ‘Bureaucrazy’ were designed to stimulate the complicated processes refugees must go through when arriving in their new country. ‘Bureaucrazy’, for example, was created to provide refugees with a tool that could offer downloads of official documents, map governmental offices and give further online assistance through the bureaucratic processes.

The last year, the ReDi has grown into a non-profit social enterprise with several 3-months IT-programs, workshops, corporate training projects as well as short term summer courses. ReDi wants to create a solid base for its pupils to find their way in German society. After each semester, the students should be ready to do an internship at an IT-company. As they state: “We’re not naïve enough to believe that they’re going to be developers that create the next generation of Facebooks and Twitters, but we’re training them to become business intelligence analysts, and front-end developers, and testers.”

For now, refugees in Berlin can apply for the spring semester starting in April. If you want to apply, join as a volunteer or want to know more, check: https://www.redi-school.org/ 

Living in Copenhagen or Amsterdam? Similar initiatives are happening there too! http://www.hackyourfuture.net/ will provide you with more information. 

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