Above: Part of the sprawling refugee settlement in Dadaab, Kenya.
By Frank Schott, NetHope Managing Director, New Program Development
A few weeks ago on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, I took a short Lyft ride downtown to catch the Seattle Mariners. My Lyft driver, Mohamed, was super talkative and we soon became involved in conversation. Little did I know at the beginning of that 12-minute drive that I would discover the intersection of his life with my work.
In a short time, I learned that he was from Dadaab settlement in eastern Kenya, about an hour-and-a-half drive from Somalia. Dadaab is a sparsely populated area. Or should I say was. When refugees started flooding Dadaab to escape intense famine, drought, and armed conflict in East Africa, no one could have imagined just how massive the refugee center would grow. Hundreds of thousands fled to Dadaab, making the UNHCR-run refugee settlement the fourth largest population center in Kenya as of May, 2015. Today, the camp complex hosts three generations of refugees.
When I told Mohamed that I have been to Dadaab four or five times, his eyes lit up. With a HUGE smile he asked, “You KNOW Dadaab?”
I told him that our organization, NetHope, set up the first internet for refugees in Dadaab. He said that he recalled that day when that connectivity became available (he was there at that time). After several years and a course that eventually led him here to Seattle, today he is able to communicate daily with his family and friends that are still in Dadaab. He said he sends money back so they can have more time on the internet together.
So many NetHope staff made this possible but special thanks to our partners at Cisco, USAID, Microsoft, Inveneo, and Safaricom whose tech experience, generosity, support, and collaboration were able to make that connectivity a reality.
It is very satisfying to know that this is a self-sustaining piece of our development work. It clearly demonstrates that connectivity is a lifeline for refugees and a power line for responding organizations. Since Dadaab, we have been connecting people like Mohamed to Wi-Fi in Greece, Uganda, and now Colombia. But this satisfaction is made even more palpable when a direct experience, like talking with Mohamed, brings to life the real effect NetHope’s work has. Because of it, NetHope and our consortium of NGO members and tech partners, can connect Mohamed—and millions more like him—to those they love a world away.