Building a new Life

Techfugees Hackathon; a tech community and solutions for refugees

I recently had the privilege of attending the first Techfugees Hackathon to be held in Melbourne. The Hackathon originated in London, and has been held since in the major cities of Paris, New York and Sydney. It successfully reached Melbourne on a Friday evening at the Launch Pad in the local suburb of Richmond, with many in attendance, from leaders to community members, all in support of this global movement. The Hackathon has partnered with the non-profit organizations, Ames and Australian Red Cross, with the purpose of bringing together Melbourne’s tech community to hack for solutions to help refugees settle in Australia.

I was met at the door by Lama Hayek, an organiser/volunteer with a strong background in technology marketing. Lama introduced me to a couple of the other leaders, who showed me around and explained what was currently happening at the Launch Pad. The teams were busy ‘hacking’, producing ideas and solutions regarding different social and economic challenges which refugees face when migrating to Australia.

I was invited by Lama to sit down and speak with her so she could further elucidate the purpose of the event. She explained to me that the teams were made up of members from each of the following – ‘Hustlers’ (entrepreneurs/leaders), ‘Hipsters’ (community members), ‘Hackers’ (IT/design experts) and ‘Humanitarians’ (refugees). Lama talked about how diversity within the teams is what produces the best solutions and how “collaboration and diversity is the key in an event for people by people.” She continued, “Everybody is contributing. In a nutshell, it’s collaboration at its best.” Lama also mentioned that the teams will be presenting their pitches the following day and the winning teams would win prizes along with the notorious People’s Choice Award. The pitch of the winning team would go into incubation, where the ideas would be materialized.

Holly Brown, a spokesperson for the Australian Red Cross also spoke to me about the role of the Australian Red Cross in the Hackathon.  She said, “By partnering with the Techfugees movement, it enables Red Cross to reach individuals and communities that share similar values and are passionate about helping people in need. The Hackathon is the perfect setting to foster new and lasting relationships, leading to connections that will ultimately benefit newly arrived migrants and the broader Australian community.”

Proud Oscar with his work

Proud Oscar with his work

Throughout the day, I spent some time personally conversing with the teams who were busy hacking. I introduced myself and my role at the Hackathon to Oscar Kasongo and Amirul Nasir. Oscar was the ‘humanitarian’ of the team and he had migrated to Australia from the Democratic Republic of Congo four years ago. He very passionately discussed with me the challenges which both he and many refugees face when migrating. Amirul was both ‘hacker’ and ‘humanitarian; an user-experienced (UX) designer for a company known as Bourne Digital. He migrated to Australia from Singapore three years ago.

Both Oscar and Amirul welcomed me warmly and I asked them if they could explain their concepts to me. In front of them was a series of hand-crafted flow charts, which they directly related to as they explained the collaboration of their ideas. The name of their team was ‘Find my Family’ and their purpose was to find a solution regarding the tracing and locating of refugees. They had developed the concept of a system which would be used through the Australian Red Cross where refugees could inform family in their home country that they are safe. The system would be online and there would also be an app available if necessary. Amirul explained, “The purpose of the solution is not for refugees to find their families but rather to inform them of their safety in Australia.” I admired the dedication displayed by Oscar and Amirul.

I made my way over to another team, again introducing myself and my role at the Hackathon. The name of this team was ‘Open Door.’ I asked them if they could tell me a little more about their focus and what they had come up with so far. Rebecca Major, the ‘hustler’ of the team, spoke up. She said their focus was on language and simple and effective ways in which refugees can learn English. I was pointed in the direction of a nearby wall where there was a creation of flow charts comprising of various concepts.

The ‘Open Door’ had developed the idea of cooking classes, where women can meet and do something they enjoy while learning English at the same time. He mentioned that a lot of the women come from cultures where they stay at home cooking, cleaning and taking care of their children while their husbands go out to work. A cooking class would provide an outlet for these women while fulfilling the need to break language barriers. The team went on to discuss the correlation of roles within the organisation of these classes. From my perspective, this team had some strong ideas and corresponded with each other on a very creative level.

The ‘Open Door’ team

The ‘Open Door’ team

By attending the Techfugees Hackathon, I learnt not only of the struggles and challenges faced by refugees but also the commitment and enthusiasm of many people in Australia, who work alongside refugees ensuring that their basic living needs are met. The Techfugees Hackathon is an admirable event; a highly significant project for the community and a global movement.


Aspiring writer with a passion for 1950's fashion, good coffee and art in all its forms.
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