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People Example11

Get to know the newcomers, activists and volunteers we met in Athens, Berlin and London, as they share their personal experiences of refuge, welcome and the digital city.


Max

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Max, Code Your Future
Islington, London, February 2019

The tech sector loves a hackathon, and in the wake of increased publicity about the refugee crisis in 2015 and 2016, a lot of tech companies responded in the only way they knew how. Hackathons are not in themselves evil — they are great at promoting common goals, building networks and supporting ideation. Quite often, however, they just become one-off events without planning or capacity to support the full life-time of a project.

Code Your Future is a community first and coding school second. It was started in early 2017 by Germán, the founder, as a response to the lack of anything real materialising from the big promises made by the tech sector to help refugees. Our goal is to support students all the way until they find a job in the industry. We don’t ask to see their papers or verify residency, we don’t care as long as they are people interested in tech and need support. I'd like to think that through this experience, I now have a much better understanding of what an open community means. And by that I don't mean just welcoming, but honest — about our intentions, goals and failures.

(digital skills)

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Everyone’s favourite day is Sunday when two students provide home-cooked food for everyone. It’s always delicious and that way everyone does something — the trainers are giving their time and knowledge, and the students are giving and sharing something, too. All the trainers are volunteers, this space is given to us for free and organisations we work with often donate laptops. So any funding goes to cover travel expenses for those who need it. Key aspects of our programme will require a lot more attention as we keep moving forward, so we’d like to grow into a core team of full-time paid employees. But we’re somewhat limited from receiving government support as they are often focused on volume and coding schools are not easily designed for that. And the level of support we hope to provide — 1 volunteer mentor for 2 or 3 students — means that scaling our approach for thousands would require significant human resource and technical development.

(solidarity)

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You rarely see refugees on the floor of tech conferences or hackathons that seek to address issues affecting them. A lot of very well-meaning people are giving their time to develop projects to help, but there aren’t any refugees in the room to point them in the right direction. I’d like to see companies concentrating on inclusivity and empowerment, involving more refugees in developing solutions built, not for them, but with them, technological or otherwise.

(digital skills)

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Our students are from all over — Syria, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka. Women are still a minority — although higher than the tech industry average — but a very vocal and active minority. This isn’t for everyone, you need to like coding and be able to demonstrate that. They also promise to commit to 20 hours a week because what they learn every Sunday needs to be practised. It’s not easy. Over the course of 6 months, they work on a project developing a website for a local charity. If their website is minimally viable, then Code the Future applies for grants to allow the student to continue working on it until it’s ready, or the charity might contribute funds. That way a local charity gets a website and the student gets a better portfolio, as well as professional pay for their skills. Our students have previously developed websites for a UN refugee skills-matching database and a Refugee Service Directory.

(digital skills, London)

Update June 2020 — Code Your Future is a community unlike any other and community has never been stronger or wider. Whether you want to learn or help us grow, we'd like to welcome you in with open arms.

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