Tackling refugee crisis – what works?

In the sea of different initiatives to address the issues surrounding the arrival and integration of refugees in our (in this case I focus on Dutch) societies, not every idea has positive practical implications. Although there are many noteworthy projects that deal with “raising awareness” and “offering art as a cure”, I believe that when it comes to refugees, the ability to work and provide for oneself should have priority.

In researching the practical ideas to help out refugees, I was surprised to see that the “geeks” did it. A Dutch project, Hack Your Future, is created at the beginning of this year in Amsterdam and is run by a bunch of software developers. The idea behind the project is to help highly skilled refugees to get a job in the field of computer programming. Since the beginning, the class has grown to 15 students, mostly Syrian refugees that are divided in two classes, beginners and more advanced learners. Increased support by companies has resulted in getting a bigger space that should allow for more students and mentors. The project wants to grow and connect with more companies and volunteering mentors. Another positive thing is that one of the students is about to get an internship in a company which could possibly lead to an actual employment.

Learning to code is for many refugees a life changer

In my attempts to find out more about this topic, I met with one of the Hack Your Future volunteering mentors. Machiel Visser, 27, lives in Amsterdam and besides his full time employment, is spending his Sunday’s teaching students often older than himself: “I found out about this project via some Facebook groups and decided to sign up. I did some volunteer work a few years ago and this seemed like a nice way to address the ever-growing demand of software developers and help the refugees interested in learning more about coding.” During the week, Machiel and other mentors work on adjusting the curriculum to the different levels that participants possess: “It takes up to six months to finish the complete curriculum– if you are a beginner. But people we work with have varying skills, some come from the same field while others have completely different degrees– like law studies”. While this indeed is a volunteer job, there are benefits for this young professional as well: “It is really nice to see how eager they are to learn, they have all week to work on this so that’s why they advance so quickly. I never did teaching before but now, I get to practice that, share things I am good at and help others acquire these skills as well, which is amazing to see.”

Now, this initiative is mostly suitable for highly skilled refugees and does not guarantee instant success. What makes is good, in my eyes, is that it has started from the bottom, by the art of individuals coming together and deciding to transfer knowledge to those who can use it the most. On the other hand, the fact that the participants are able to spend whole week learning things they are presented with during the meetings or online, is strong enough evidence of the potential worthiness of such approach. In that light, go “geeks”!

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