Refugee Code Week opens up new perspectives for refugees and displaced youth throughout the Middle East.
“Come in!” Nisreen’s father says cheerfully, as he invites us in from the dusty street. Inside his small house, the air is cool and smells of fresh tea. The tiny rooms are clean and lovingly decorated. Grandmother and niece are already waiting for us in the living room. It looks almost like their home in Syria did before the war, they tell us. Outside, laughing children play tag. It’s a little paradise they have created for themselves here.
But not all is as it seems at first glance: Nisreen Abu-Salou, 37, is a Syrian refugee, and the walls of the house are made of sheet metal. She and her father live there alone, her mother having since returned to Syria to Nisreen’s brothers and sisters. They have no idea how the rest of the family is doing. Contact with the outside world is only possible sporadically. Nisreen’s new “home” is Al Zaatari, a refugee camp in Jordan. It is the largest refugee camp in the Middle East, and with 80,000 inhabitants, the second largest in the world.
Back in Syria, she worked as a teacher and taught children from grade five up to graduation. Her curiosity for all things new was her constant companion. Her eyes light up just reminiscing about it. And now she has the chance to learn programming.
Nisreen has been taking part in Refugee Code Week, an initiative sponsored by SAP in collaboration with the United Nations Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and Galway Education Center. The aim of the project is to introduce refugees in the Middle East to the basics of computer programming. The courses were held in Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, and Turkey.
Skills for Now and the Future
There are currently millions of refugees of all ages stuck in camps throughout war zones and hosting countries. Despite their wide range of skills and qualifications, most of these people have no choice but to idle away the day. For children the biggest issue is the lack of access to education especially beyond the elementary level.
The IT industry in this region, on the other hand, needs highly trained specialists to drive digital transformation and help secure the region’s long-term economic growth. Saudi Arabia alone already had a shortfall of some 30,000 IT professionals. Meanwhile, it is estimated that businesses and governments will invest around $260 billion in IT in the Middle East and Africa (MEA) in 2016 alone.
So what could be more obvious than to tap that tremendous motivation of the refugees – especially of the girls – and invest in a better future, right here and now?
The impact of the initiative is particularly evident in the camps nearest the Syrian border in Jordan. Take Amnah, for example, a 12-year-old girl also from the Al Zaatari camp. She says that learning with the special Scratch software is very easy “and a lot of fun, too.”
Some women in the program are students, others are teachers, such as 21-year old Rana. She sees this project as a unique opportunity for girls to shape their future and to develop a perspective, even in a seemingly hopeless environment such as theirs. Participants were taught in groups aged 8 to 11 years and 12 to 17 years. SAP also offered free online courses on the openSAP platform for those who were unable to attend on-site.
Training for Hundreds of Teachers
The students didn’t just benefit from the pedagogical and didactical quality of the Scratch teaching program, which is very practice-oriented and thus capable of maintaining the learners’ enthusiasm even through the phases of dry theory. They also benefited from the high level of motivation of their teachers. 2,439 teachers have been trained by SAP experts and supported by numerous volunteers. And they are not only coming from the refugee communities but also count volunteers from the host countries who will also forward their new digital knowledge to local youth.
“Hence the importance of ‘Train-the-Trainer’ events, where SAP master instructors empower both refugees and local youth to become the next expert coding teachers,” explains Claire Gillissen-Duval, director of SAP Corporate Social Responsibility for EMEA and global lead of Africa and Refugee Code Weeks. “Leveraging freely accessible materials and teaching tools, Train-the-Trainer events provide a sound, replicable structure for inter-group knowledge sharing, unlocking the potential of people to serve as resources for each other.”
The entire model builds on the success of Africa Code Week. In its second year now, SAP together with hundreds of partners passed on coding skills to 427,000 children, teenagers, and young adults in Africa. Many of those participants now have career perspectives they never would have dreamed possible before. This is also the experience of the 10,200 participants of Refugee Code Week: Whether as employees in companies or as freelancers: their skills are in demand and can be used anywhere in the world – especially, of course, in their home countries, where they hope to be soon able to return to and to support economic recovery.
President Obama Reaches Out, SAP Responds
When the White House issued President Obama’s “Call for Action” in September 2015, SAP was one of the first companies to pledge its support. SAP committed to train 10,000 refugees in the fundamentals of software programming in October as part of Refugee Code Week. The coding courses will also be integrated within the long-term curricula of the hosting schools in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey, paving the way for a truly empowered generation. Yet the initiative is not just about teaching job-relevant skills. It also aims to establish sustainable education models within families, so that the vicious cycle of tradition, poverty, and lack of education can be broken, especially for women.
Direct From School to Career
For some of the Refugee Code Week participants, the dream of a career becomes true even sooner. The 90 best ‘Master Class’ students are selected to participate in a special “bootcamp” training program from SAP non-profit partner RBK (formerly ReBootKamp). Of these, at least 30 can look forward to a job offer from the SAP partner network upon completion.
Fatima Himmamy has already participated in a RBK training. The 26-year-old from Aleppo, who has already completed a four-year computer studies program, describes the initiative as one of the best experiences of her life. Being a teacher in the project is much more than just a job to her, though. It has given her a different perspective, and has changed her life in the camp.
The project has given her new drive, and lots of satisfaction, because passing her knowledge to other women and girls is a cause that’s particularly dear to her heart. “I love what I’m doing here,” she says.
Refugee Code Week demonstrates how people – even those in need – can turn potential opportunities into a better future. In the end, it all comes down to determination. And when it comes to determination, the participating girls and women are in a class of their own.