In June 2021, Techfugees selected 5 catalysts projects working with our volunteers internationally to kickstart Basefugees, our public showcase of responsible digital services curated with and for displaced persons.
On Refugee Week, we launched our #TechDownBorders crowdfunding campaign to raise funds for our local projects as well as the development of Basefugees. Over the course of the month, we’ll publish the five testimonials of the five projects to underline the role tech can play to empower displaced persons and enable free access to information, connectivity, education, health and employment.
Let’s start with Refugee Info Bus Testimonial from Calais, France ! 🇫🇷
Basefugees’ Testimonial #1
Supporting internet for all forcibly displaced persons in France
👉🏼 Could you please introduce your organization ?
We are Refugee Info Bus – a nonprofit organisation based in Calais, Northern France. We are dedicated to providing displaced communities various forms of practical information and different means of communication services by offering phone charging and WiFi.
Displaced communities in Calais are constantly on the move living rough and are often unable to access fixed accommodation or support services. They are regularly targeted by the police forces and local government policies to make Calais as inhospitable as possible. Uncertainty about potential evictions and police taking personal belongings is the daily reality for the different communities living in the informal and constantly changing campsites around Calais. People who arrive struggle to find a tent to sleep in and when they do it there is always the uncertainty and fear of the possibility of it being taken by police. This situation affects the way organisations operate in Calais, usually by doing distributions or charging sessions in fixed and accessible spots near the campsites.
Our organisation attempts to provide agency to the different displaced communities. We do this by visiting three different sites around Calais multiple times each week where we run two and half hour phone charging and free WiFi sessions. During these sessions we also offer practical information about the context and services provided by different organisations in Calais (food, clothing, access to water, etc.) in various languages thanks to our network of translators. At the same time, one of our goals is to create a safe, community space during our sessions, where people can relax, have a cup of tea and play board games or sports.
We run 9 sessions a week and at each session we typically support 150-200 people per session. We also provide additional services that support this primary service – namely our phone repair and distribution programmes. We run these programmes as people without working phones cannot avail of our service.
👉🏼 With which Techfugees Chapter are you currently collaborating and what for ?
We are currently collaborating with the French Chapter of Techfugees. We are hoping that by collaborating with them we can improve our WiFi service and speed, implement new repair services and develop our supply chain for phone donations for our distribution programme.
👉🏼 How important do you think Techfugees Guiding Principles for tech-enabled projects targeting forcibly displaced persons ?
Our work is highly focused on having a personal approach, where we take time to get to know both the individuals and the wider communities we support. In this way we find our approach to be reflective of the Techfugees Guiding Principles, particularly the three below:
From tech user to tech empowered (#Empowerment)
We stand strongly against gatekeeping information and we are actively working to promote our information campaigns about phone care and repair at our sessions. While the people we support are limited in resources, and we are also limited in the services we can provide, by offering transparent advice in a multitude of languages, we can give greater agency to allow the communities we support to be tech empowered.
Don’t collect data for data’s sake! (#DataGovernance & #Transparency)
We only collect data when it has a practical function and it is collected anonymously and strictly confidential. Most of the current data we collect is to help us review and improve our services for the people we support. The data we collect for the improvement and expansion of our services is both done by listening to the personal opinions of individuals and by debrief forms we fill out on a daily basis. These allow us to understand the personal frustrations of how services function, and understand the wider supply/demand limitations and changes of our work.
Good intentions are great to start with but sustainability is the key to real impact (#Sustainability)
One of our guiding principles is sustainability. We strongly believe in making sure projects can remain and are consistently available for the people we support. While we cannot understand what it is to be a displaced person, we can understand and sympathize with the frustration of having an irregular or inconsistent service that is changing constantly. This is why we always work to have strong and sustainable relationships with the communities we support by creating simple-functioning, easily accessible services. We recently relaunched our two services – phone distribution and phone repair after we took time to test, compare and research how to make the projects sustainable for as long as there is a need for them in Calais.
👉🏼 A word about our ongoing #TechDownBorders crowdfunding campaign ?
We here at Refugee Info Bus are very excited by the ongoing #TechDownBorders crowdfunding campaign. It is great to see how Techfugees is supporting us and other like minded and similarly focused organisations and the support of so many individuals who want to help and contribute to our work. We are looking forward to seeing how the campaign continues to develop and the different support people will continue to offer!
We hope that by joining the Basefugees Project and being listed, we can create greater global awareness for our work and to allow us to collaborate and communicate with other similar projects across the globe.
We hope this will allow us to exchange ideas and solutions that will continue to innovate and evolve our services to help meet the needs of the people we support.
Join us to #TechdownBorders and support the efforts in France.
Donate here or share the campaign !