International Children’s Day: Syrian Refugees Can Code

Today, November 20th is International Children’s Day and we wanted to share with you an amazing project we worked on recently.

Kurdistan Save the Children and World Learning got a grant from the Catalyst Foundation and they decided to use it to bring Kano Computer Kits to South Kurdistan. There, the kits would be used by Syrian refugees living in the Arbat refugee camp, where children between the ages of 10 - 11 would be able to learn about code, creativity, and English in two 12-week cycles at the local kid's center.

About The Region

Before we go deeper, we need to talk about the geopolitical context of the region. Syria’s ongoing civil war has killed over 250,000 people and injured over a million. More than half of all Syrians have been forced to leave their homes, often multiple times, making Syria’s displacement crisis the world’s largest. More than 5 million refugees have fled Syria to neighboring countries: Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey—these numbers are only growing.

Here are some facts according to the United Nations Refugee Agency UNHCR:

  • As of March 31, 2018, the Sulaymaniyah region in Iraqi Kurdistan is home to 31,983 Syrian refugees and 6,512 other displaced people.

  • The Arbat refugee camp in Sulaymaniyah is home to 8,572 refugees, 1,560 of which are between the ages of 5 and 11, and 796 of which are between 12 and 17.

  • Many of the children of the crisis have been completely left out of formal education.

  • This situation creates both long-term policy challenges and immediate needs for informal education programs.

How Education Can Help

The Kano curriculum, as contextualized and deployed with the help of World Learning and its partners, has the potential to address the last two points.

The program is working with over 450 Syrian refugee children, ages 10 through 14, from the Arbat Refugee Camp, located in Iraqi Kurdistan and home to over 8,500 Syrian refugees. Of the participating children, 4 languages are spoken. Many of the children lack access to formal education, and in many ways the center and classrooms will be their first exposure to computers as well as more formal education.

Although the children will be using Kano Computer Kits, the main mission is to create a fun environment where kids are allowed to be kids and be creative. As this will be the first time many them will be working on computers and in English, it is important the kids feel empowered to create with technology.

Getting Hands-On

On September 2nd, I traveled to Kurdistan with Kara McBride, from World Learning, to help train the KSC staff and teachers who would work with the Computer Kits and teach English at the same time the children are learning about programming.

Meeting the staff from KSC was an amazing experience. The organization truly believes in working with children and helping with their social and emotional needs. Every day was exciting as the staff learned more about programming in Make Art and Hack Minecraft while learning new games to teach English topics.

The training all built up to the actual build day where groups of kids came into the center to build a computer for the first time! The kids were of varied economic and educational backgrounds so it was interesting to see how they would do building a computer and programming it in English. All in all, it was a huge success and it was endearing to see some of the younger kids poking their heads in the rooms to check out what all the excitement was about.

After our departure, the program is being fully run by the Kurdistan Save the Children staff at the center. We keep in close communication and they share some of the new games the kids play in their English lessons as well as the cool and creative things they make on the Computer Kit Complete. My favorite has been a Halloween activity where the kids designed their own face masks and then recreated them in Make Art.

Bright future

As weeks go by, and we get more updates from the team on the ground our respect and love go to KSC and the kids. Although the children and staff have suffered great tragedies in their lives from the war, their ability and capacity to build, create, and inspire are amazing. If anything we have been given more than we gave from the experience and we can only thank KSC, World Learning, and the children for inviting us to help in a small way to the program.

We are excited to see their final projects in December and to greet the new cohort of children starting in January of 2019.