Microsoft has partnered with UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR to address the lack of digital networks, connectivity and infrastructure in refugee communities.
Microsoft is helping address the lack of connectivity in some communities. One of such initiatives is providing internet connectivity to refugees living in Dzaleka Refugee Camp, Malawi. Dzaleka refugee camp is located about 70 km from Lilongwe. It currently hosts about 28,000 refugees and asylum seekers, mainly from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Rwanda, Somalia and Ethiopia
Through network partner, C3 in Malawi, Microsoft under it’s 4Afrika initiative will use TV white spaces to provide internet connectivity for the communities.
TV white spaces is a low cost broadband service which will provide users with 1GB of data for USD $2.40 a month. Users will experience speeds up to 3Mbps. TV white spaces performs even well in hilly areas and also allows the penetration of obstacles such as buildings and forest foliage.
Refugees view access to a mobile phone and internet as being critical to their safety and security and essential for keeping in touch with loved ones. The places where refugees and displaced communities live frequently lack digital networks and infrastructure, or the connectivity available is too expensive.
Through funding by Microsoft for a one-year period, refugees and interested host communities will receive free access to internet through the connectivity centers.
1,000 smartphones will be distributed to refugee community leaders who will use the connectivity to benefit their communities. Besides having easier access to their communities and families back home, the connectivity will also be provided to organizations that are working in the camp to improve service delivery.
Other plans are to link the connectivity with education initiatives to improve access to learning opportunities. Another plan is to use the newly established internet connection for livelihood programs to facilitate the search for employment.
Tina Ghelli, Senior Regional External Relations Officer at UNHCR spoke to Remy Gakwaya who’ll benefit from the project. Remy Gakwaya is a 22 year old Burundian refugee who resides in the Dzalaka refugee camp in Malawi. He runs the only computer lab in the camp. Remy voluntarily teaches other refugee youth how to programme. He opened the TakenoLab in 2016 because he wanted to help other youths in the camp learn to programme.
“I love programming,” says Gakwaya. “It is inspiring to see something that I create myself. Here in the refugee camp you are not free to do anything. We aren’t able to work outside of the camp. However, if you do programming, you can do it from anywhere in the world and be paid for that.”
Currently Apps benefitting the overall refugee community are already being developed by Gakwaya and his team. One of the apps will help teachers facilitate the registration of students’ enrollment and registering of their grades, which currently takes up a lot of time. They are also working on an app that will map the different tribal groups and share cultural practices so that the various ethnicities and nationalities in the camp can better understand each other.
“I want to use technology to solve local problems that big software companies do not have the time to take on,” says Gakwaya
Gakwaya is very excited. He is confident that having a faster and cheaper way to connect to the internet will be able to complete more online training to complement the programming skills he learned so far, but he also will be able to strengthen the training he is giving to other young people.
The Dzaleka Refugee Camp TV Whitespaces project, has added the Microsoft 4Afrika AppFactory initiative. That means fellows will be taken in and trained under the Microsoft 4Afrika AppFactory program.