Data analyst and Kakuma refugees share a common language

By Nicole Smith

Nicole Smith is a data analyst with The Hive, USA for UNHCR’s innovation lab. Last month, she traveled to Kenya and saw firsthand how support from USA for UNHCR is making a direct impact on the lives of refugees at Kakuma refugee camp. 

“I’m working on my first novel,” said Nhial Deng, a refugee in Kakuma refugee camp, as he shared his hopes and dreams with me. In addition to being a youth leader at Kakuma, Nhial is writing a novel, studying information and communications technology and helping create educational opportunities for fellow refugees in Kenya. 

Visiting Kakuma refugee camp, I met many refugees like Nhial who have a lot to offer and are eager to share their skills with the world. Here are some of the things I learned about refugees in Kakuma.

Refugee in Kakuma in front of computer

Refugees are taking advantage of globalization. In the modern age of learning, refugees are using internet programs like edX to get their online degrees from world renowned institutions like Columbia University, Parsons School of Design and Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU). One of the amazing young women I met was Joelle. She is getting her degree in business administration at SNHU while, at the same time, advocating for increased access to educational opportunities for refugees in Kakuma using social media.

Refugees use the same programming languages as us. Many of the refugees I met in Kakuma are studying for careers in technology. In their coursework, they are learning programming languages like C++, Java and Python. These are all programs that I too have used in my work as a data analyst. It’s inspiring to know that through the universal language of computer programing, I can collaborate with refugees to help them solve the most pressing issues in their lives.

Refugees in Kakuma sitting in row of desks in front of computers

Refugees want to be a part of the conversation. While in Kakuma, we learned that several refugee youth had recently participated in a hackathon in Nairobi. One refugee, Bahana Hydrogene, from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, shared how important it was that refugees were able to participate in activities like this and how partners could benefit from working with refugees rather than for refugees.

Refugee family on computer outside shelter

Refugees are best equipped to help create solutions for refugees. Refugees know and understand the problems their communities face better than anyone else. For example, when meeting with youth leaders in Kakuma, one young man presented us with a problem we’d never thought to address. He shared how intense heat—which can reach temperatures of more than 90° in the summer—is a significant barrier to learning; students struggle to focus in classrooms and technical equipment often overheats. To address this issue, the youth leaders petitioned to open schools at night so they could learn under cooler temperatures. 

The people I met in Kakuma have the technical skills to improve not only their own lives, but the lives of refugees in their communities and around the world. It is our job to support them and lift them up. Help raise the voices of innovative refugees around the world by becoming a monthly donor today.

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