With more refugees in the world today than any point since the Second World War and as Western governments like Canada slash spending on foreign aid, aid agencies are increasingly looking for help from an unlikely quarter: the corporate sector.
And sometimes solutions are developed directly at the request of aid agencies. That’s what happened when Télécoms San Frontières approached the Vodafone Foundation four years ago to build a “network in a box” for deployment following natural disasters such as the recent cyclone in Vanuatu and earthquake in Nepal.
That invention, a complete mobile network that comes in three simple boxes, has led to changes for the refugee community as well.
“As a humanitarian program, we are trying to reach the most vulnerable people,” said Oisin Walton, the instant network roll-out manager for the Vodafone Foundation. “After discussions with UNHCR on how we could better support them, we found that education was a key area we could contribute in.”
The result is the Instant Network School Program, tablet-based classrooms in refugee camps where students and teachers can spend a few hours every day for an interactive education.
The program debuted at the Yeda refugee camp in South Sudan in 2013 and 16 classrooms are now up and running in South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee camp in Kenya.
Over the next two years, UNHCR and the Vodafone Foundation hope to expand the program to 33 schools in these countries plus Tanzania, serving an estimated 60,000 refugee students.