Posts

How to Help People in TajikistanTajikistan is hardly at the forefront of many Westerners minds when it comes to global poverty. This landlocked and mountainous nation, nestled in the heart of Central Asia, is often forgotten about, but it requires assistance just as much as many other developing nations around the globe. For those interested in how to help people in Tajikistan, opportunities do indeed exist, largely in the form of NGOs working on the ground.

32 percent of Tajiks live below the poverty line, a rate significantly higher than its Central Asian neighbors. The nation is by far the most economically deprived in the Central Asian region, and its problems are frequently compounded by its unstable economy and geopolitical situation. More than one million Tajiks work in Russia and other ex-Soviet republics, leading 50 percent of the country’s GDP to be reliant on remittances. Additionally, its rarely-policed border with Afghanistan has led to pressure from Al-Qaeda extremists in its most remote corners.

How to help people in Tajikistan is reliant on the NGOs and aid organizations that operate there. Save the Children (STC) has had a presence in Tajikistan since 1992. Around 10 percent of school age children are currently absent from the education system. STC works to ensure Tajik children are in full-time education, especially girls. They have also made strides to protect the large homeless child population in the capital, Dushanbe, and have paid special attention to orphans. Consider donating or volunteering for STC to join them in their efforts.

The U.S. government has also joined the fight against poverty in Tajikistan. USAID has implemented the Feed the Future initiative, which assists farmers in achieving the crop development they need to sustain their families and communities. Thousands have achieved a more secure and sustainable relationship with their land as a result. USAID has multiple opportunities for American citizens to join them in their work. Volunteers are accepted on various projects both at home and abroad, and they are also eager to build partnerships with businesses and organizations to further their mission.

Rural Tajiks in the nation’s remote areas also receive support from groups such as the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). Its agricultural financing facility is helping alleviate the crushing debt faced by many agricultural communities due to uncertain crop yields. A 25 million euro investment through the Tajik Agricultural Finance Framework (TAFF), set up by EBRD, has allowed farmers access to purchasing the crop of their choice, diversifying production and allowing for more economic stability. The EBRD also accepts volunteers, as well as businesses interested in partnering with non-profits that work in the Central Asia region.

These organizations offer the most salient answer for how to help people in Tajikistan. Through participating with these organizations, those interested in alleviating the crushing poverty experienced by many Tajiks can make a tangible difference.

Jonathan Riddick

Photo: Flickr

The IARAN Keeps Its Eyes on the FutureMeet the Inter-Agency Regional Analysis Network (IARAN), a team of nine that is changing the way non-governmental organizations (NGOs) think about aid.

The IARAN, which gained international acclaim when it published “The Future of Aid, INGOs in 2030” report in July, helps humanitarian organizations all over the world by informing NGO strategy through its research about the changing nature of global humanitarianism. Paramount to its mission is ensuring that NGOs around the world harness foresight and modernized approaches to aid when addressing crises.

The group first worked with Save the Children International in 2012 and is now partnering with the international-nonprofit Action Against Hunger to introduce the organization to more proactive and sustainable methods of programming. In both its test-run with Save the Children and its current pilot phase, the group has seen real change in the way each organization operates — an indicator of success.

The Borgen Project spoke to the IARAN Director Michel Maietta and Communications and Event Manager Leonie Le Borgne about the IARAN’s progress thus far and its ambitions going forward.

“The vision that is behind this program is actually how to contribute to alleviating poverty in a more efficient and preemptive way,” Maietta said. “Most of the humanitarian NGOs are very reactive. Naturally, you want to react when there is a threat. But the problem with reaction is that in the long-term there is no sustainability, and the problem will remain, the vulnerability will remain.”

To create sustainable solutions to the problems endangering the world’s most vulnerable, Maietta argued, NGOs must anticipate and address the root causes of global crises before they manifest. Many of today’s organizations have not practiced such foresight and as a result have not been able to adapt to new challenges or innovate in meaningful ways, yielding disastrous results.

“The refugee crisis that Europe is facing today is a direct consequence of the inability of the humanitarian system to directly access the population in Syria,” Maietta said.

Alternatively, when NGOs prepare for the future and create mechanisms that reduce damage down the line, they greatly increase their potential for positive impact. Planning as far as 15 years in the future can save lives as well as money, and more generally, increases organizational efficiency.

The IARAN aims to bring strategies of preparedness into the humanitarian mainstream.

“[The IARAN is] completely unable to diagnose the Hurricane Irma impact,” Maietta said when describing the IARAN’s scope of influence, “but what we can do is address the root causes of Irma, which are the warming of the Atlantic Ocean and climate change, and then help game changers to design a preemptive strategy that can actually correct or re-address these root causes.”

Preemptive planning also allows organizations to be quicker and more flexible in their responses to disaster.

“Reactivity and life-saving response, and then strategy, preemptiveness and the capacity to address root causes of the problems — the two can be done together. But, you need both. You cannot have one or the other.”

In addition to developing and expanding their work with NGOs, Maietta and his team are also working to enhance the humanitarian leadership graduate programs of two universities in France and Australia. The aim is to ready the next generation of humanitarian managers and directors for the global challenges ahead. This leadership is crucial for the creation of lasting and effective change within NGOs.

“We strongly believe that the humanitarian actors today are very good tacticians, because they are very, very reactive,” Maietta said, “but the humanitarian system needs to have strategic leaders, leaders that can handle strategy in a very complex way, because the context where we are interacting is very complex.”

The IARAN additionally publishes between 35 and 50 reports a year on a variety of issues, ranging from alleviating poverty to addressing undernutrition to responding to global migration crises. It will also produce a book in the next year that will discuss the organization’s findings from the last four years, including how it developed its methodology and promoted organizational change in Save the Children and Action Against Hunger.

While the IARAN and its many projects are instrumental in promoting change within humanitarian organizations, the organizations themselves must act for any real progress to occur.

“The mission of IARAN is to offer food for thought but change will not happen without the actors,” Maietta said. “The actors need to be able to be the protagonists of the change.”

Time will only tell if NGOs take up Maietta’s call to action.

Sabine Poux
Photo: Flickr

Pediatric Heart Disease in Developing CountriesPediatric heart disease is seen throughout the world and causes grave sickness in children. It is often complicated and hard to treat. With poverty and lacking resources, pediatric heart disease in developing countries becomes nearly impossible to manage.

It is difficult to determine how many children have heart disease because of lacking global data. Figures are generally surmised from industrialized nations. Since better diagnostics were implemented, experts estimate that 8-12 per 1,000 live births have heart disease. Children can also develop heart disease from heart rhythm disorders and infections (among other things).

Children with heart disease have very complicated health situations. Those born with a heart defect may have other birth defects. And as treatment improves and children live longer, they develop secondary diseases such as kidney failure.

Their situation is worsened by a lack of knowledge in developing countries. There is a common misconception that children do not develop heart disease. Parents may not recognize the serious symptoms, and as a result, children are often diagnosed later in life when treatment is harder and more expensive. Medical professionals do not always recognize heart disease in children, leading to misdiagnosis.

Worldwide, heart disease is expensive to treat. In the U.S. in 2009 the hospital cost of treating heart failure in children was thought to be $1 billion. This figure does not include outpatient visits, medications, treating secondary conditions, transportation and parents’ lost work.

Funding treatment of pediatric heart disease in developing countries is challenging. There is a lack of data to guide medical policy and infrastructure and the disease is likely under-reported. When poor countries decide how to best spend small healthcare budgets, it seems plausible to focus on more prevalent conditions that are cheaper to prevent, such as infection.

Providing adequate cardiac care requires significant resources. For simple heart surgeries, sterile consumables (such as drapes) are needed, as well as sophisticated equipment and trained personnel. More complex heart conditions may require more advanced equipment and highly educated providers.

Many children with heart disease in developing countries have surgically curable defects. Yet, because of costs, these children receive simpler “quick fix” surgeries. Another issue that developing countries have with providing acceptable heart surgeries is they often struggle with clean water and electricity, which are crucial in running any hospital.

Fortunately, many organizations see the struggle of treating pediatric heart disease in developing countries. In 2015, there was a survey of NGOs that provide care for this population. The survey lists more than 80 NGOs.

Some of these organizations perform mission trips to developing countries, where they perform heart surgeries in the local hospitals. Others bring children into industrialized nations for surgery and take them back after recovery. In some instances, organizations have worked with the country and local healthcare providers to build lasting cardiology programs that can serve the country more permanently.

Pediatric heart disease is a complicated condition. While seen throughout the world, it has a greater impact in developing nations because of higher birth rates. This does not mean it is not treatable. With great investment from NGOs and governments, children in developing countries can have the same outcomes as those in industrialized nations.

Mary Katherine Crowley

Photo: Flickr

Dubai CaresIn September 2017, philanthropic organization Dubai Cares celebrated their tenth anniversary. The global nonprofit was founded by Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum. Its mission is to provide education to citizens from countries where educational opportunities are sparse.

Currently, Dubai Cares has facilitated educational programs in 45 countries. According to The National, this has had a positive effect on 16 million youths. The organization has also partnered with other global organizations, like UNICEF, CARE International and the World Food Programme. Along with these, Dubai Cares has joined with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and other nongovernmental organizations to influence the global community’s commitment toward better educational practices.

When the charity was first formed, it focused on funding educational programs created by others. After hiring Chief Executive Al Gurg, Dubai Cares began constructing their own solutions.

Dubai Cares operates under the belief that education is a fundamental right that should be available to everyone regardless of race, gender or religion. Lack of education is one of the biggest causes of global poverty. The organization is particularly interested in promoting education for girls around the world, 62 million of whom are not in school.

Over the past 10 years, Dubai Cares has built or renovated over 2,000 classrooms and trained nearly 64,000 teachers. The organization acknowledges, however, that there are many things that affect education beyond the schools or quality of education.

One of these issues involves health-related problems, including malnutrition and disease. To combat these, Dubai Cares has invested in providing healthy food, clean water and effective hygienic practices to students. Another issue that severely affects education is military conflict within the country. One recent philanthropic mission the organization undertook involved educating children dealing with national violence in Columbia.

The continued successes of Dubai Cares have cemented it as a pinnacle in the fight for global education.

Cortney Rowe

Photo: Flickr

Art Therapy for Syrian Refugees
Non-governmental organizations around the world have been using art therapy for Syrian refugees as a way to deal with trauma.

One of the non-governmental organizations using art therapy for Syrian refugees is Global Humanitaria, based in Spain. According to HuffPost, the organization has partnered with Bader Medical Center in Jordan to help Syrian refugees create artwork. These art pieces will be displayed in Madrid and Barcelona and sold online. The proceeds from these will support the artists.

More than the monetary value, art therapy helps Syrian refugees express the horrors that they have experienced in Syria. According to Al Jazeera, many of the Syrian children are too young to verbalize what they went through. Others are too traumatized to talk about the things that they have seen. Art therapy for Syrian refugees gives children a nonverbal way to work through their thoughts.

Many Syrian children draw things that they have witnessed. These things often include bombs, severed limbs and tanks. Other children draw happier pictures to signify a happier outlook.

Art therapy for Syrian refugees also gives the refugee children an opportunity to talk about their trauma on their own terms. According to Al Jazeera, Syrian children often become belligerent or withdrawn when asked about the situations that they have faced. Art helps them process these experiences.

Syrian refugees experience many of difficulties beyond escaping from the country. Several of the children at the Bader Medical Center have lost limbs, for example. Others must deal with a lack of education, employment and permanent housing.

In spite of the benefits of art therapy for Syrian refugees, there is not much of funding for it. Al Jazeera discusses how little non-governmental organizations receive for art therapy. A lack of funds leads to not having enough patient time to make a long-lasting improvement.

This being said, even short-term art therapy for Syrian refugees has had a positive influence on the refugees exposed to it.

Cortney Rowe

Photo: Flickr

Water Quality in the Central African RepublicApproximately 663 million people live without access to clean water. Many nongovernment organizations (NGOs) are dedicated to improving water quality and building wells in poverty-stricken areas. However, the ad hoc building of wells does not solve the problem of water poverty and sanitation. Wells can and do break down and someone must fix them, but at this point, most water charities have left the community a long time ago. The key to ending water poverty, which will in turn bring more people out of extreme poverty, is water sustainability. This is where Water for Good – an organization working in the Central African Republic (CAR) – comes in.

A Plan for Water Sustainability

Founded in 2004, Water for Good works to bring water sustainability and improve water quality in the CAR. It is now the largest water provider in the country. Water for Good has drilled over 650 new water wells in the CAR and each well provides enough water for 500 people. The organization also maintains over 1000 water wells across the country and has rehabilitated more than 900 old and forgotten wells. While wells can last over a decade with routine maintenance, they will eventually need a major overhaul.

Water for Good plans to bring clean, safe water to every person in the CAR  by 2030. This is in step with the U.N.’s timeline for achieving the global Sustainable Development Goals. The nation has a population of only 4.7 million people; however, with a large geographic size and a history of internal conflict, improving water quality in the CAR is a difficult task. Water for Good plans to partner with the U.N. and other charitable organizations to achieve this goal.

Local Companies

Doctor Richard Klopp – CEO of Water for Good – tells The Borgen Project that an important step toward water sustainability is transitioning the duties of maintenance and upkeep to private companies within the CAR. Water for Good currently has four maintenance crews that each take care of about 260 wells. The goal is to hand off all of those responsibilities to private, locally-owned companies. In fact, it has already started to happen.

Water for Good created a locally-owned company, Marcellin African Drilling (MAD), and then handed off all the operations to the owner, Marcellin Namsene. While MAD still partners with Water for Good on projects, it is a private, locally-owned business that can continue to upkeep the wells when Water for Good’s work is finished.

A Strategic Focus

Water for Good was originally founded by a former missionary named Jim Hocking, when a good friend sold him a well-drilling business if he agreed to run it as a nonprofit. Hocking had no experience with water wells or drilling, but was familiar with the issue of water quality in the CAR, having grown up in the country. Originally, the organization was named Integrated Community Development International and had several other aims besides water. It was also involved with HIV/AIDS work, orphan care and providing religious services. Eventually those other issues were jettisoned in order to focus on water sustainability. The organization now provides drilling, maintenance and runs a radio station which focuses on community development, sanitation and hygiene. While the CAR is a very low-infastructure country, most people have access to a radio.

“We realized what the country needs from an American NGO is water infrastructure built and sustained, ” says Klopp, “and so that’s all we do now.”

It is a strategic focus for a unique organization. Hopefully, the success of Water for Good inspires other organizations to realize what can be accomplished with long-term planning and a focus on sustainability.

Brock Hall
Photo: Flickr

Helping People in MexicoWhen people think about the country of Mexico, people reflect on some of its cultural features. These include the country’s food, music and clothing style. What people do not know about Mexico is that between the years of 2012 and 2014, the number of individuals living in conditions of poverty has increased by two million.

With this fact in mind, many people ask how to help people in Mexico. Due to the Mexican government spending many of its resources fighting the growing problem of cartels within its borders in conjunction to helping grow its economy, private solutions to poverty in Mexico appear to be much more adequate solutions to this issue.

This article highlights some NGOs that address to problem of how to help people in Mexico. Below are two NGOs that are currently doing this.

Children International

Drug violence and drug trafficking has transformed the cities of Mexico — essentially into war zones — and has taken hold of every section of the country’s state and national politics. The people most affected by the influence of the cartels in Mexico are the nation’s child populations. The NGO, Children International, is helping people in Mexico by focusing on the child populations living in the country’s cities.

Children International is helping people in Mexico by creating community centers which act as safe havens for the kids residing in this region. These centers contain books and computers for educational purposes, and toys to keep them entertained. On top of this, these centers also serve as a hub for child program activities that teach kids they can have a better life, and how to achieve that life.

One way to begin helping people in Mexico is to either donate to this NGO or to do volunteer work with their organization. Although volunteering is the most effective way of helping these people, any donation made makes a great difference.

Freedom From Hunger

Freedom From Hunger is an NGO that is helping people in Mexico by creating programs that aim to reduce the country’s food insecurity issue. Food insecurity gets defined as the inability to meet one’s basic nutritional needs for some or all of the year. On top of having 53 percent of the country living in poverty, and having 24 percent of the population living in extreme poverty, many people outside of these two groups struggle with food insecurity.

Freedom From Hunger is partnering up with local organizations in Mexico’s major cities and food banks. This partnership is being done to reach out to the needy in the country and give them access to a better food supply.

On top of this, Freedom From Hunger is helping people in Mexico by creating savings and loan programs for the people living under conditions of poverty. Although the incomes of these groups may be low, the issue of poverty only gets exacerbated when families fall further into debt or make poor financial decisions with what little money they do have.

Between helping the poor in Mexico deal with food insecurity and their economic issues, Freedom From Hunger is making great strides in fighting poverty in Mexico. In their first year, they reached out to 14,000 people in villages and cities where these services are needed. To support this group, and to begin helping the people in Mexico, volunteering one’s time or donating is a great way to start.

Private institutions are not always as efficient at making the substantive change needed to begin eliminating poverty, and at the current moment, the Mexican government is unable to make real change for its people dealing with poverty. With time and commitment, these organizations offer solutions for how to help people in Mexico and can continue to make the change needed in the country.

Nick Beauchamp

Photo: Flickr


The news of the ugly, modern warfare occurring in Syria is heartbreaking. Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to the problem of Syria’s civil war. Despite obstacles, many agencies are doing their best to get humanitarian aid to civilians. In particular, USAID helps Syria by funding many organizations within the United Nations (U.N.), through non-government organizations (NGOs), and its own programs. Here are six specific groups that USAID helps fund:

  1. USAID’s Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART)DART currently has teams deployed to Turkey and Jordan. They are on standby in case of a sudden and large-scale displacement of Syrian refugees, or for any other humanitarian needs caused by the conflict in Syria.
  2. USAID/Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA)USAID/OFDA funds U.N. and NGO sponsored programs. This department has helped provide medical care to Syrians by helping the U.N.’s World Health Organization (WHO). The WHO has been able to evacuate patients out of conflict zones, as well as identify and vaccinate against a recent measles outbreak. USAID/OFDA also funded NGOs to train Syrian medical staff, provide medical supplies, and vaccinate against polio.
  3. The Crop and Food Security Assessment Mission (CFSAM)USAID is funding the U.N. World Food Program and U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, which have been able to report on food and crop security in Syria. The CFSAM report shows that less food is being produced in Syria. With this information, the U.N. is able to respond with appropriate food deliveries.
  4. The World Food Programme (WFP)USAID gave $79,812,417 to the WFP’s work in Syria during the 2016 fiscal year. This does not include the funding given to the WFP for use in neighboring countries. In January, the WFP delivered food to 3.6 million people in Syria. The WFP has also given food assistance to conflict-isolated people in the Jordan-Syrian border towns. Finally, the WFP has given more than 1.6 million Syrian refugees food vouchers on debit cards.
  5. The U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF)UNICEF is helping in Syria and in neighboring countries. Within Syria, UNICEF is bringing six million liters of water daily. This is estimated to help 400,000 people in the country. UNICEF is helping Syrian refugees as well. Last November and December, they provided $28 clothing vouchers for Syrian refugee children in Jordan to buy winter clothing. These vouchers were given to 128,430 Syrian children. UNICEF is also offering psychosocial support to Syrian refugee children in Turkey. In January, they helped 7,200 children. UNICEF is also helping refugees by providing social services.
  6. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)The U.N. organization, OCHA, received $3,000,000 from USAID in the 2016 fiscal year. As a result, OCHA has been able to present reports on the humanitarian crisis in Syria. As a result of this important work, the world now knows if humanitarian aid is able to get into Syria, citizens are impacted by aid disruptions and by the state of facilities and infrastructure throughout Syria.

While these examples are encouraging, Syria is still struggling to receive humanitarian aid being offered. In many cases, battles between the al-Assad regime and the rebel forces prevent aid workers from reaching citizens. In some cases, the Islamic State has deliberately blocked aid organizations from repairing infrastructure.

Yet, the world is persistent and continues to fund humanitarian aid to Syria. USAID helps Syria in even more ways than are listed here. Also, the USAID website implores people to donate to NGO’s working in Syria.

It’s dispiriting to watch what unfolds in Syria and hard to imagine how Americans can help. Another way we can help is to tell Congress to support the USAID budget. As few as seven calls from constituents have been known to impact the legislation that a congressman or senator supports.

Mary Katherine Crowley

Photo: Flickr

largest and fastest growing slums
Though the apartheid that bore Khayelitsha ended over 20 years ago, the damage has yet to depart. Cape Town was conceived for the sole purpose to house blacks in the white dominant country of South Africa, with protectant buffer zones of scrubland and valleys to separate Cape Town from the rest of the country. This made Cape Town one of the most populated cities in South Africa and Khayelitsha one of the most populated slums.

Though Khayelitsha was originally an apartheid dumping ground, as part of the “Group Areas Act” it is now one of the largest and fastest growing slums in South Africa. Khayelitsha is home to around 2.4 million individuals, 50 percent of which are under the age of 19.

Over the past ten years, the population has increased from 400,000 to 2.4 million. The unemployment rate for individuals living in Khayelitsha is 73 percent with 70 percent of its individuals living in shacks.

The severe poverty combined with a lack of community infrastructure has led the community to vast crime rates, gangs, violence and drug use, thus placing Khayelitsha as the murder capital of South Africa. Local police say they deal with an average of four murders every weekend.

Living conditions in Khayelitsha are less than pleasant, with the unfortunate 70 percent of individuals living in shacks made of timber and sheet metal. The shacks are built very close to one another making fires a constant problem due to how fast they spread and how often they occur. There are no street names in Khayelitsha, instead, the large area is divided into 26 districts, which are numbered by letters, with each shack having a different number.

Sanitation is another struggle for the individuals of Khayelitsha, often times their toilets leak into the streets, fermenting there for weeks. This sanitation issue causes many diseases and sicknesses within the community.

Lack of clean water and food is yet another hardship. An estimated one in three people have to walk 200 meters or more to access clean water. A limited food supply is sold between shacks, being constantly exposed to the sun and flies. Food sold between shacks is the only food option in Khayelitsha being that there are no supermarkets or stores of any kind.

Overcrowding has been another common problem in this ever-growing slum. Khayelitsha has a high population density and a low amount of resources to support the growing population. This, along with a lack of security makes theft and crime very easy.

In an interview, one Khayelitsha resident, Nomfusi Panyaza, explained what it is truly like to live in Khayelitsha. She explained that when it rains, the surrounding public toilets overflow into her living room with water coming through the ceiling. Panyaza lives in her small shack with six other family members and two beds to share among the seven of them.

Though Khayelitsha’s hardships are very much prevalent, certain NGOs are doing what they can to alleviate various hardships. Some of the outreach that has been made is through the Zhakele Clinic, which was opened in Khayelitsha for the population’s health care. Unfortunately, the need surpasses what this small clinic can do, but it is a starting point that can be expanded.

Secondly, the nutritional support initiative (NSI) encourages patients to come into the clinic by giving the patients a two-week supply of nutritionally enhanced maize meals called e’Pap. E’Pap is a pre-cooked porridge with soy protein fortified with 28 nutrients. Providing patients with e’Pap decreases the amount and severity of side effects to the medications that the patients are taking and improves their overall health by lessening their chances of malnutrition.

Thirdly, the NGO, TB/HIV Care, which started in 1929, aims to decrease the incidence of tuberculosis and HIV across all of South Africa. Their plan is to improve the current TB and HIV prevention and care by researching and monitoring the area, helping not only the current situation but also looking to better South Africa’s future.

Khayelitsha is certainly a vastly troubled place though it should not be considered a lost cause. With the combined efforts of determined people and organizations, both mentioned above, as well as others, one of the world’s largest and fastest growing slums can finally improve its situation.

Bella Chaffey

Photo: Flickr

Refugee NonprofitsWhile forced migration is a constant problem, advances in technology have changed the playing field, and aid organizations are struggling to keep up.

Today, refugees are using their smartphones for both practical uses and methods of comfort in a difficult situation. For efficient aid distribution, change in refugee behavior must be accompanied by a corresponding change in nongovernment organization (NGO) structure.

“Our phones and power banks are more important for our journey than anything, even more important than food,” a refugee from Syria, Wael, told Agence France-Presse (AFP) news agency.

When Hassan, a 28-year-old teacher fleeing the Syrian civil war, found out his rubber dinghy was sinking in the middle of the Aegean Sea, he used WhatsApp to alert his friend in New York of his location. He was found by the Turkish Coast Guard 45 minutes later.

Hala, a refugee from Aleppo, uses her phone as the only means of contact left between her and her husband, who was kidnapped by ISIS prior to her departure.

“That’s why I’m always holding it. I’m holding on to it like I’m holding on to an address of my own, my family. This metal device has become my whole world,” said Hala to a Channel 4 film documentary crew.

Smartphones have become such vital tools that it is now standard practice for NGOs to distribute chargers in refugee camps.

Facebook, WhatsApp, Viber, Google Maps – they’re commonplace applications that have helped refugees quickly navigate their way to safety. Perhaps even a bit too quickly.

“You see their [NGOs] logos, but you don’t see them,” said Hassan.

International aid workers have struggled to keep up with the pace of migrants, often ditching the practice of establishing camps in favor of delivering aid to wherever refugees might happen to be.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) changed their policies in 2014, funding hackathons across Europe so app developers throughout Europe could create new tech-centric solutions to their problem.

These hackathons proved themselves instantly effective. Instead of relying on static means of distribution, new projects like Germany’s Refugees Welcome and Comme à la Maison (CALM) created a channel for refugees to find necessary contacts to help them wherever they may be.

In the future, huge aid organizations should back the winners of hackathons like Techfugees, which generates a variety of smaller startups that are more intuitive and problem-specific.

Regina Park

Photo: Flickr