Faced with a slew of horrifying stories from the refugee crisis in the EU, coder Anne Kjær Riechert wasn’t sure how she could help. That’s until she met Mohamed, a former computer science student at the University of Baghdad, who was living in refugee housing in Berlin. Mohamed had to put his studies on hold once he became a refugee, Riechert says in a talk at TEDxBerlinSalon, and he was without a laptop to practice coding on his own.
“I thought, ‘This cannot be,’” Riechert says, “‘Here we have a young talented man who has a skill that is so sorely needed by German industry … all he wants to do is to study computer science and get a job in the IT industry [and he can't].’”
Coding was something Riechert knew and — after talking with Mohamed — she realized it was also something that could be of benefit to refugees living in Berlin. Coding isn’t just about code, she says in her talk, it’s about problem-solving, developing solutions to complex issues, thinking creatively — all things that come in handy when you’re adjusting to life in a new country.
So — with some tech-savvy friends — she decided to start a coding school for refugees — the ReDI School of Digital Integration. ReDI offers coding classes, talks from local tech leaders, mentorship and coworking space to help new Berlin residents integrate into the Berlin tech scene and develop skills to use in future jobs and personal projects.
One student of the school — Khaled Alaswad from Syria — developed a platform to help refugees connect with locals “over a shared interest in sport or music or cinema, you name it,” says Riechert. The site, called “Let’s Integrate,” allows locals and non-locals to sign up to meet one another for cultural exchange — in Arabic, English or German.
The school also hosts hackathons and challenges, Riechert says, including a challenge to gamifying German bureaucracy and make the legal process for refugees easier to understand and fun to do. “We’re trying to connect technology with humanity to make a real difference,” Riechert says. Students at ReDI pitch projects, develop platforms and dream of future tools – from better ways to connect with family members back home to building better governments.
What has Riechert learned from ReDI? “We need to stop talking about refugees and start talking with them,” she says.
Watch her whole talk to learn more: