Join our CEO, Joséphine Goube, as she visits Cambridge to catch up with growing projects and share experiences with the local Techfugees community.
Cambridge’s science and technology scene has been birthing world-changing advancements since long before that famous apple whacked Isaac Newton on the head. No surprise that the Cambridge Techfugees chapter is an enduring member of our global family.
Saturday 26 October saw the Raspberry Pi Institute host delegates from the city and further afield, coming together to share updates and ideas for their latest projects.
Scaling up tech for good
Dan Ellis of the Cambridge Refugee Resettlement Campaign spoke about their work interacting directly with the local refugee population. They provide language tuition, community events, and advice on employment and integration via a network of over 200 volunteers.
With 111 displaced people calling Cambridge home, it’s a unique opportunity. The CRRC can engage in detail and develop solutions which, with luck, will scale for the UK’s larger refugee communities up north.
One project which handles scale beautifully is Integreat. Fritjof Knier, one of the co-founders, joined us to talk through this German app’s journey which won the Techfugees Global Challenges last year. Inspired by a document printed in 1999 which contained all the information a newcomer might need in one place, Integreat attempts the same feat.
Providing an open source smartphone platform, municipalities upload key information via a clear UI powered by WordPress. This can then be made available offline to cope with patchy internet coverage in some areas of Germany. One in every eight cities across the country are already using the app to help their huge refugee populations connect with vital services.
The morning’s final talk came from Lucy Boddington and Techfugees Cambridge’s own Oscar Gillespie. With Lucy’s research focusing on mental health issues facing displaced people (one in three of them according to the Red Cross), a useful sticking plaster for the epidemic showed up in an unusual place.
Tetris, the Game Boy classic, was found to stimulate the specific neural networks used in treatment of PTSD. 20 minutes of the game following a PTSD flashback could cut recurring symptoms over time by up to 50%.
Lucy and Oscar are now building on this research by packaging Tetris together with a digital journal and a means for refugees to securely track their own data over time. Once the coding and IP challenges are overcome, Headtris will offer tangible, practical comfort to those in desperate need.
Reliance on the real
What was striking, and so encouraging, about the day’s discussion was its focus on the real, the achievable. The temptation to think of ‘technological solutions’ as impossibly advanced digital dreams being handed down from ivory towers is seductive, but counterproductive.
Integreat, a scalable digitisation of a 20-year-old leaflet. Headtris, a medical application of a 35-year-old game. Often, leveraging existing platforms and ideas in a new way, geared to a new purpose, can get assistance to the needy much quicker.
Another crucial pillar of the Techfugees ethos is to involve refugees in the conversation. Julian Harty shared his experiences of bringing low-cost, simple computers into Kenyan schools, because that’s what the teachers said they needed to deliver a lesson.
Contrast that with Hewlett Packard sending entire servers (built for nice cool storage rooms) into the desert and you see the importance of frontline experience to delivering viable help.
As the “refugee crisis” fades from the media cycle for now and becomes a fully political topic across multiple political contexts, we need to retain this pragmatism if we’re to be of any use.
Tech for humans is notoriously difficult to scale but we saw all stages of that journey on display here, proof that it’s attainable. From Nina Szymor of Raspberry Pi talking about coding clubs for refugee children to the CRRC’s close relationship with the community. From Julian’s school-by-school project pilots to Integreat’s national success.
The Cambridge community is a continual inspiration, but there’s always more work to do. If any of these projects have captured your imagination, get in touch with their creators to see if you’ve got the skills they need to develop and grow – and if you want to join the Cambridge Chapter, do get in touch via @Techfugeescam!
This post was produced by the team at Sookio.