The world’s heart was broken when photographs and video of the lifeless body of toddler Aylan Kurdi spread across the Internet. He was 3 years old, from war-torn Syria. His final journey was supposed to end in a peaceful refugee camp in Greece; instead it claimed his life and the life of his mother and brother.
Our world is challenged with the most serious, large scale, and deadly refugee crisis since World War II.
I was a refugee from Iran when at age 13 my mother and I fled to Germany. I shared part of my story on my personal blog Be The Change and remain forever grateful to the police officer who helped my family and others find refuge, and to the countless other generous and welcoming Germans who helped us rebuild our lives before we eventually migrated to the US.
And today, in this column, I am sharing my gratitude for Mojahed Akil, a Web designer who arrived in Turkey in 2011 after being detained by the Syrian regime, recognizing an opportunity to help fellow Syrians adjust more quickly and stay connected constantly through the Gherbtna mobile app.
Gherbtna is an Arabic word for exile and loneliness, and the natural fears that go along with being a displaced person, feelings I am very familiar with.
Syrians have to leave their families, farms, homes, and careers, in order to simply survive. Their journey to foreign countries is tremendously difficult, and once they arrive, settling in and reconnecting with other Syrians who have immigrated is not easy.
But this young visionary has created an app available for free on Apple and Android app stores, that provides refugees with news and guidance, resources and more.
Mojahed told an interviewer from The Syrian Campaign, “When I first came here to Turkey as a refugee, I knew nothing about Turkish language nor the country. I was frightened from the situation in Syria, my home country. I lived and witnessed all the suffering that Syrian refugees face when they arrive here seeking protection. Escaping from the oppressive rule in their countries, these people are venture away from their houses leaving everything behind and seeking a better life for their families.
From my own experience I learned that knowledge is power and the best way to help these victims, the best thing to support these refugees is to educate yourself, get facts and work hard. I started to think about how I can reach these people directly and easily. This is how the idea of Gherbtna was born. I aimed to help refugees by providing useful information about the host countries and I learned app development.
The app has different sections like jobs offers, registration requirements for Syrian students to attend universities, regulation regarding residence permits and information about settlements like which areas are safe and which are being shelled… Anything that is useful for Syrian refugees.”
For those of you who are wondering about access, most of the camps have Internet access and electricity to charge devices, and provide devices to for those who don’t have. Refugees agencies including the UNCHR (the refugee organization associated with the United Nations) help make it possible for real time communications to reach hundreds of thousands of Syrians.
Gherbtna offers not only the mobile app, but a website and a radio station – creating news, information and content continually enriching the value of this incredibly modern humanitarian service.
The app, website, radio programming and support has proven very popular among Syrian refugees in Turkey, where Mojahed continues his work. With his brilliant idea – hard work – and determination – he is making the confusing and disorienting process of settling into a new country much easier for tens of thousands of his Syrian family. Given that Turkey is becoming a hub of digital innovation and is fully committed to narrowing the digital divide, and given that Turkey based on the numbers is the most generous country in the region, welcoming refugees as “guests,” we can imagine this will be a model that will spread towards many other parts of the world. Let’s not just hope it does – let’s make sure it does.
My personal gratitude and congratulations to Mojahed and his team!