The YTF Kenya team developed innovative solutions towards health issues at the Kakuma Refugee Camp.
Last month, the YTF Kenya team was selected to participate in the first ever TechFugees Hackathon in Nairobi, Kenya. The event was organized by TechFugees, an international non-profit coordinating the international tech community’s response to the needs of refugees, asylum seekers and displaced people. The hackathon aimed to empower displaced people with technology and essentially find long-term solutions to their everyday challenges. Since the mission of YTF is to reach out to the marginalized communities, youth, and women to create innovative solutions to the challenges they encounter, it’s easy to see how closely the TechFugees and YTF missions align. The YTF Kenya team was thrilled to invest their intellectual capacity in competing!
How can we use technology and innovation to address the challenges faced by refugees?
The TechFugees Hackathon brought techstars, mentors, designers, business leaders, and members of the community together with newly-arrived and settled refugees to design a prototype. The main focus of the hackathon was to address health challenges in refugee camps. The Kenya Red Cross (KRC) Team issued a challenge to competing teams to develop an innovative solution to enable local health workers and community leaders to provide early health warnings in order to avert more serious health problems in Kakuma Refugee Camp. Kakuma Refugee Camp is located in Turkana in Kenya: close to the South Sudanese, Ugandan, and Ethiopian border. It is home to 186,000 refugees. Some of the problems faced by KRC in Kakuma include difficulties in tracing the locations of disease hot spots due to the dynamic change of location names inside the camp, and delays in reporting health problems due to language barriers and lack of literacy. The proposed solution would enable local health workers and community leaders to report issues quickly, potentially averting more serious health problems in the camp.
The three-day hackathon event was held at the iHub in Nairobi, Kenya. It kicked off with an a networking session where YTF’s Kenya team got the opportunity to interact with experts from Google, Oracle, Kenya Red Cross, Samuel Hall Foundation, and I-Hub. Speakers who presented at the event were John Peter Lowot and his brother John Michael who were previous asylum seekers who lived in Kakuma Refugee Camp. Listening to their conversations and hearing their first-hand experiences at the Kakuma Refugee Camp was awe-inspiring. They recount having to walk long distances in search of medical attention for their mother who suffered from a chronic disease. The inefficiencies in the administrative systems at the camp, limited opportunities, corruption, overwhelming number of refugees, and low numbers of qualified staff are some of the many problems they faced when trying to access medical care. “A problem is not the problem, but how to solve the problem is the problem,” Peter Lowot says.
During the hacking sessions, the participants were divided into teams depending their skills, backgrounds, and knowledge-base. Our YTF team had a diverse set of expertise ranging from electrical and computer engineering to software development. Teams brainstormed solutions to the challenges laid out by KRC. YTF team members were able to incorporate the experience they gained through executing YTF Academy in marginalized communities to develop some solutions for refugees living in camps.
Mentorship breakout sessions helped teams to re-evaluate their proposed solutions and continue building on their ideas. “Your mobile application should fill in into the ecosystem of the refugees’ needs so that it can be of use and (make) sense to them. Bring the refugees to the centre of your solutions,” says Tayyar Sukru Cansizoglu, Head of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) programs in Kakuma. Tech experts from various organizations were on hand to help teams come up with designs for their prototypes. They provided very useful mentoring that our YTF participants report will stay with them beyond the hackathon.
The climax of the event was the pitch session. iHub provided mentoring to help prepare teams for pitching their solutions to the judging panel. One of the solutions that our YTF team members helped develop, Kwanza Aid, was a platform aimed at providing two access points of information that would enable community health workers and Kenya Red Cross to effectively provide crucial services and predict the occurrence of outbreaks before they happen. The Kwanza Aid prototype took into account the challenges faced in Kakuma such as poor mobile connectivity, illiteracy and language barriers, the types of mobile devices used by refugees, and the types of information that needs to be collected and transmitted. The Kwanza Aid solution used technologies such as geomapping, analytical tools, assistive technology, and Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) to facilitate timely responses to health emergencies in the camp.
YTF team members who participated in the TechFugees Hackathon say these were the three key points they are taking away from the event:
- Avoid disjointed design by inclusive innovation.
- Collaborate with other people in the ecosystem to achieve product market fit.
- Build your products into platforms to support different facets of life.
YTF cannot wait to revolutionize the lives of refugees at camps such as Kakuma with the robust technology solutions we developed at the Hackathon and the innovative thinkers we help develop every day through our education initiatives at YTF Academy in Kenya.