This week’s article will highlight a brand new start-up in Berlin, Germany: Refugees on Rails.
It caught my attention because it is an ideal combination of the ideas behind two articles previously published in Change. In June, I wrote about the importance of learning to code in Python vs. the Pythagorean Theorem. Then, in September, I wrote about the ongoing refugee crisis in Citizens > Governments, where people are stepping up all over the world to welcome refugees.
Germany has been particularly welcoming and innovative when it comes to refugees, so it is no wonder that Refugees on Rails is the brainchild of two Germany entrepreneurs. But what is Refugees on Rails?
Refugees on Rails is a coding school for refugees in Berlin. Two friends, Weston Hankins and Anne Kjær Riechert, put two and two together: a dearth of competent coders in Berlin, and an overwhelming number of refugees who are waiting for their paperwork to be processed before they have access to schools and jobs. Training refugees to code during their forced down time fills a technical skill gap in Germany, while simultaneously providing refugees with marketable skills and preparing them to enter the job market.
One of the founding ideas behind the start-up is the desire to counter the negative image of refugees in Europe as an economic burden to be dealt with, rather than a resource to be cultivated. Germany has welcomed over 600,000 refugees this year, many of whom are highly educated Millennials with valuable work experience who simply lack the appropriate paperwork to begin contributing to their adopted society. One of the first people to sign up for the coding school was a 26-year-old Syrian refugee named Muhammad, who had already spent 10 months waiting for the administrative wheels to turn in Germany. He spent years moving around the Middle East and Eastern Europe after fleeing his hometown of Aleppo – one of the hardest-hit cities in the Syrian conflict. With a degree in business administration and having already opened his own restaurant, he was ready to try something new that might help him continue his business ventures in the future while keeping his mind active.
Refugees on Rails is still in it’s early stages. Via their website, and in partnership with T-Mobile and the Stanford Peace Innovation Lab, individuals can donate their old computers to help get the school started.
The kind of innovative thinking behind this start-up is exactly how European countries – and any other countries who are welcoming refugees – should react to this unprecedented influx of humanity. Because that is what refugees are – human. The refugee crisis isn’t simply a problem that needs a solution – although there are a lot of problematic variables to consider in the equation – but is an opportunity to enrich the lives of those fleeing violence while at the same time benefitting the society that welcomes them.