IN­CLU­SION

Silicon Luxembourg - - CONTENTS -

In­te­grat­ing Refugees Dig­i­tally

IN DE­CEM­BER 2015, PA­TRICK DE LA HAMETTE, A LUXEMBOURGISH COM­PUTER EN­THU­SI­AST WHO HAS BEEN IN­VOLVED IN CHAR­ITY WORK SINCE HIS TEENAGE YEARS, VIS­ITED THE REFUGEE CAMP IN ESCH-SUR-ALZETTE. THERE, HE MET TWO YOUNG REFUGEES WITH EN­GI­NEER­ING EX­PE­RI­ENCE WHO HAD JUST FLED WARS AT HOME AND QUAL­I­FIED FOR IN­TER­NA­TIONAL PRO­TEC­TION. NO IN­TER­NET AC­CESS WAS AVAIL­ABLE AT THE CAMP, AND THEY ALSO FAILED TO CON­NECT WITH THE FREE MU­NIC­I­PAL WI-FI NET­WORK. WITH­OUT A SE­COND THOUGHT, DE LA HAMETTE BOUGHT A LARGE AN­TENNA FOR THE MOD­EST SUM OF €10. HE DIDN'T KNOW IT YET, BUT HE CHANGED THEIR LIVES AND HIS OWN THAT DAY. WITHIN TWO YEARS, HIS NON­PROFIT AS­SO­CI­A­TION, DIG­I­TAL IN­CLU­SION – SUP­PORTED BY THE OEU­VRE NA­TIONALE DE SECOURS GRANDE-DUCHESSE CHAR­LOTTE AND THE MATENEEN PRO­GRAM* – WOULD RE­FUR­BISH AND DIS­TRIB­UTE MORE THAN 1,000 COM­PUT­ERS AND HIRE THREE EM­PLOY­EES AND DOZENS OF VOL­UN­TEERS.

DIG­I­TAL IN­CLU­SION CATCHES FIRE

De la Hamette ad­mit­ted that he never in­tended for his per­sonal ini­tia­tive to be­come an as­so­ci­a­tion, es­pe­cially one that re­ceived such wide­spread in­ter­est. In ad­di­tion to buy­ing an an­tenna, he also re­fur­bished and do­nated an old per­sonal com­puter af­ter notic­ing that the camp of 60 peo­ple only had one game con­sole. The idea of Dig­i­tal In­clu­sion was born! He shared his do­na­tion on so­cial me­dia, ask­ing friends to do­nate com­puter equip­ment they were no longer us­ing. The re­sult? Twelve com­put­ers.

"I in­vited refugee friends to my house and we started re­pair­ing and up­dat­ing the first ma­chines in my at­tic. For each refugee that re­ceived a ma­chine, ten oth­ers wanted one too. I asked for more com­put­ers via Face­book. To­day, our stock is al­ways full," De la Hamette said.

In Fe­bru­ary 2016, a Luxembourgish tele­vi­sion jour­nal­ist dis­cov­ered this net­work of "handy­men" and re­layed the call for do­na­tions dur­ing a re­port, ac­cel­er­at­ing the ini­tia­tive. To­gether with so­ci­ol­o­gist Is­abelle Mous­set, Dig­i­tal In­clu­sion con­tin­ued pur­su­ing its mis­sion of so­cial in­clu­sion for ev­ery per­son in need. In April of that same year, the as­so­ci­a­tion moved into the base­ment of the Hariko build­ing, man­aged by the Red Cross, in Bon­nevoie. By July, it had re­ceived the sup­port of the Oeu­vre Na­tionale de Secours Grande-duchesse Char­lotte as a mateneen project. "Fi­nanc­ing as a mateneen project has al­lowed us to rent a space and de­velop our busi­ness. The se­cond part of the fund­ing then al­lowed us to hire two peo­ple part time, be­cause each week we re­ceived about 50 re­quests for com­put­ers," De la Hamette said. Its new premises in­clude an of­fice, a work­shop room, a train­ing room, a maker space, a stor­age space and a re­cep­tion area.

"From the be­gin­ning, my phi­los­o­phy was to give refugees the op­por­tu­nity to do some­thing with their time and their hands, not just ther­apy through busy­work. The ma­jor­ity of our vol­un­teers are refugees them­selves and they are proud to see the com­put­ers they have brought back to life for refugee fam­i­lies in Lux­em­bourg," he noted. "The as­so­ci­a­tion also wel­comes more and more job seek­ers among its vol­un­teers."

All refugee fam­i­lies in the Grand Duchy will soon be equipped with a com­puter do­nated by Dig­i­tal In­clu­sion, giv­ing ac­cess to all 4000 refugees. The sym­bolic 1000-com­puter mark was crossed in Oc­to­ber 2017!

IN­CREASED DIG­I­TAL AU­TON­OMY

The as­so­ci­a­tion's global vi­sion is dig­i­tal in­clu­sion and ac­cess to the dig­i­tal com­mu­nity for all. Not only do refugees ben­e­fit from the help of De la Hamette and his team of vol­un­teers, but qual­i­fy­ing, low-in­come res­i­dents can also re­ceive com­put­ers.

The as­so­ci­a­tion's class­room is al­ways full. Cour­ses to mas­ter tools, such as Word or Ex­cel, are in high de­mand. To fa­cil­i­tate ex­changes, trans­la­tors jug­gle French, Ara­bic and even English within the cour­ses, which fall un­der the ECDL - Euro­pean Com­puter Driv­ing Li­cense pro­gram. Es­tab­lished in 1997, this pro­gram aims to de­moc­ra­tize dig­i­tal skills through the use of com­put­ers and cer­ti­fied dig­i­tal tools. Other dig­i­tal train­ings are also pro­vided, for ex­am­ple, work­shops on learn­ing French on­line. Dur­ing the meetup, vol­un­teers share the most ef­fec­tive e-learn­ing sites for learn­ing the lan­guage of Molière.

"We have sev­eral chal­lenges in our cur­rent so­ci­ety: dig­i­ti­za­tion, mi­gra­tion, the re­duc­tion of e-waste and so­cial in­clu­sion. I am proud to have found a tech­ni­cal so­lu­tion for this so­cial chal­lenge. Of course, we have an ex­cel­lent so­cial se­cu­rity sys­tem, but the ques­tion of dig­i­tal ac­cess as a fac­tor of so­cial in­clu­sion has, in my opin­ion, not been suf­fi­ciently taken into con­sid­er­a­tion. The com­mon de­nom­i­na­tor among our vol­un­teers is that they have IT skills but are un­em­ployed. With the au­to­ma­tion of work our so­ci­ety will evolve, and we must find a so­lu­tion to cre­ate jobs at the lo­cal level," De la Hamette con­tin­ued.

VOL­UN­TARY EN­TREPRENEUR­SHIP

A de­vel­oper and IT an­a­lyst for so­cial se­cu­rity ad­min­is­tra­tion (CCSS) dur­ing the week, De la Hamette is fully com­mit­ted to the cause dur­ing his free time. In ad­di­tion to his in­ter­est in the dig­i­ti­za­tion of so­ci­ety, one of his mo­ti­va­tions is con­nect­ing un­em­ployed refugees and em­ploy­ers: “Aws Alo­mar, our Tech­ni­cal Man­ager, has just been granted Land Oc­cu­pancy Ap­proval (AOT) from the Em­ploy­ment De­vel­op­ment Agency (ADEM). He is one of the first five refugees with­out in­ter­na­tional pro­tec­tion sta­tus to ob­tain such an au­tho­riza­tion in Lux­em­bourg."

Apart from vol­un­teer­ing, there are hardly any job of­fers for refugees with­out in­ter­na­tional pro­tec­tion sta­tus, as the au­tho­riza­tions are highly time-con­sum­ing and in­ten­sive. Even af­ter ob­tain­ing the nec­es­sary sta­tus, ac­cess­ing the la­bor mar­ket is dif­fi­cult be­cause of the lan­guage bar­rier. Through vol­un­teer­ing, refugees can find some ful­fill­ment and show their fam­i­lies that they are work­ing for the good of other refugees.

"It's an ex­tra­or­di­nary project. If you start by help­ing a few peo­ple and meet other peo­ple in the same sit­u­a­tion, your re­flex is to help them too. When we see that there is the pos­si­bil­ity to help all refugees, as it is the case with the as­so­ci­a­tion, we say, ‘why not,'” De la Hamette re­marked.

"We adopt a holis­tic ap­proach by pro­vid­ing free train­ings, as well as sup­port for those who re­ceive com­put­ers. If we raise funds it is al­ways to ben­e­fit dis­ad­van­taged peo­ple and those look­ing for work. The two refugees I first started tin­ker­ing around with are still vol­un­teers of the project. Our two fixed em­ploy­ees, Anna Szy­man­ska, so­ci­ol­o­gist and Project Man­ager, and Aws Alo­mar, Tech­ni­cal Man­ager, are sup­ported by a third ro­tat­ing po­si­tion that is shared by sev­eral mem­bers. At the mo­ment, a Syr­ian woman, an en­gi­neer by train­ing, works two after­noons a week, as well as an Iraqi and a Brazil­ian. We have had 80 dif­fer­ent vol­un­teers since 2016, in­clud­ing a dozen who fre­quently re­turn."

With ten tons of ma­te­rial al­ready re­cy­cled, the project has a strong im­pact, not just on dig­i­tal in­clu­sion and so­cial in­te­gra­tion, but on the cir­cu­lar econ­omy. Any­one can do­nate, whether in­di­vid­u­als or busi­nesses. Dur­ing Sil­i­con's visit to the as­so­ci­a­tion's workspace, we met a man­ager of the Mu­dam – Lux­em­bourg's modern art mu­seum – who came to do­nate a box filled with un­used com­puter mice and key­boards, fol­low­ing ex­hi­bi­tions that re­quired the screens only.

"We want to cre­ate aware­ness. As long as not ev­ery­one has a mo­bile phone or a com­puter, we should not throw them away, but in­stead re­cy­cle and re­use them. I would like us to spread the prin­ci­ple of zero waste in Lux­em­bourg and, given the size of the coun­try, we should be 100% in­clu­sive at the dig­i­tal level. It's a po­lit­i­cal mes­sage! It is eth­i­cally wrong not to give these re­sources to those who need them,” De la Hamette in­sisted.

*Launched at the end of De­cem­ber 2015 by the Oeu­vre Na­tionale de Secours Grande-duchesse Char­lotte in re­sponse to the refugee cri­sis and so­ci­ety's sol­i­dar­ity, Mateneen is a call for unique projects in Europe. It has a fund of €12 mil­lion. More than 80 projects can be de­ployed in nine sec­tors: cul­ture, sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment, ed­u­ca­tion/train­ing, em­ploy­ment, in­for­ma­tion/ co­or­di­na­tion, hous­ing, com­mu­nity mee­tups, health/psy­cho­log­i­cal sup­port and re­source sup­port.

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