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IT scheme to save refugee women from premature marriage

Digital organizations teaching computer skills to refugee women want to expand in Turkey

Ilgın Karlıdağ  | 24.05.2016 - Update : 24.05.2016
IT scheme to save refugee women from premature marriage


By Handan Kazanci & Ilgin Karlidag


Young Syrian refugee women have two choices in life: to either be pushed into a premature marriage or to jump into one.

"There is actually a third choice [and] it is called a career," says Hugh Bosely, founder and executive director of RBK, a Silicon Valley-based nonprofit organization that teaches coding to Syrian refugees in Jordan. Coding -- computer programing -- is telling a computer what you want it to do, typing a set of commands for the machine to follow.

Training Syrian people aged between 14 and 42 years old for 16 weeks, Bosely said his organization specifically looks for young women, to prevent them from premature marriage.

"Either their parents marry them off at 13 to somebody or they marry the boy next door because they are being forced out of the [refugee] tent," Bosely said.

Out of 1,000 Syrian applicants for the coding program, only 40 people are accepted and 60 percent of them are women, Bosely told Anadolu Agency, speaking on the sidelines of the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul this week.

"They can eventually go to college but it’s just a way to sort of [cut] the need to get married," Bosely said.

Bosely said his company also wants to train Syrian refugees in Turkey but that it has yet to find a local partner.

"We just haven’t been introduced to any Turkish investors or people that might want to see this education happening in Turkey," he said. "In Jordan it has the power to raise the GDP by 10 percent in five years. That’s how powerful it is."

As part of a pilot project, Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality has been teaching special coding courses to more than 3,000 children, aged between 7 and 12. They are expected to graduate in June.

Other coding courses for refugees in Turkey are set to take place in October this year, said Claire Gillissen-Duval, the director of Corporate Social Responsibility Europa, Middle East, and Africa at SAP, a multinational software corporation.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Gillissen-Duval said that the project, called Refugee Coding Week -- which is based on another initiative African Coding -- launched on Monday.

The project will take place between Oct. 15 and Oct. 23 across four specific countries: Jordan; Lebanon; Turkey; and Egypt, she added.

“What we would love to do is empower young adults from the urban-refugee and camp-refugee communities and give them the skills that they would need,” she told Anadolu Agency, adding that those people would eventually join companies which have a shortage of skilled IT workers.

SAP launched an initiative called Africa Code Week in 17 countries in 2015.

The UN Refugee Agency joined SAP after Africa Code Week, which delivered the Refugee Code Week initiative, Gillissen-Duval said.

An open software resource called Scratch, which was set up by MIT in the U.S. several years ago, was used for the training process, she said.

“We have structured the whole training material and the whole Scratch training content and we have also provided SAP employees,” she added.

People from different age groups (8 to 11; 12 to 17; and 18 to 24) participated in the training.

"There are types of technology that can rapidly liberate refugees from poverty and it is strong enough to not only pull them out poverty or out of the camps but also pull their whole families [out]," Hugh Bosely said.

"It has the ability to rapidly train refugees. From zero to hero," he added.

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