Dina Ariss

Nationality:   Syrian   Living in:   London, UK   Programmes:   ILP 2015

Nationality: Syrian
Living in: London, UK
Programmes: ILP 2015

This year has been great and rewarding for me for different reasons but the main reason is because I found a way to support refugees in UK and around the world through an amazing feminist group called “Chayn”.

Right after I came back from Brazil, my friend Ahmed (who also introduced me to WYSE) introduced me to the founder Hera. she was looking for people to translate Chayn’s first toolkit “ How to build your own domestic violence case without a lawyer” into Arabic.  A few weeks in and already through Chayn I  became part of the core team that was organising #PeaceHackBey in Beirut and #EmpowerHack in London to support refugees. Both hackathons focused on creating tech solutions to empower refugees, especially designing solutions that addressed specific issues faced by women. 

For those new to the concept of hackathons, here’s a one line explanation: Hackathons are 24-48 hours events where people from different backgrounds and skillsets come together to solve a problem through technology. From PeaceHackBey and EmpowerHack, our objective was to use design methodology to create sustainable tech solutions that enabled refugees and NGOs to combat disenfranchisement. For instance, one of my favourite solutions from the last hackathon is a website for women refugees to learn coding  in Arabic), so they have a way to earn money, and do something useful.

When I chose to be an organiser for #PeaceHackBey, I swear I didn’t know what this word meant! I felt completely lost. Luckily, the team that I was working with, was super supportive, organised, and very passionate and determined to make the difference and understood why this cause was important to me. Honestly, you don’t need more than that to create an impactful Hackathon or any other project for that matter. We had to do everything remotely from London: research barriers faced by the refugee community & existing solutions, calling and vetting attendees, recruitmenting mentors & judges, and building in field partnerships. WYSE network helped me reach WYSE Alumni in Lebanon to ask for help which was quite a fruitful connection! 

Importantly - the hackathon never ends with the end of the event itself. It is just the beginning. We are following up with the teams to make sure they have the support they need to make their solution sustainable. Incubating these ideas requires dedication but also strategic linking with organisations and external bodies to make sure these projects reach the market while remaining sustainable and open source. We want to create a community of enablers and changemakers that are using technology for the humanitarian context.

Almost immediately after the hackathon in Beirut, we started preparing for #EmpowerHack where we wanted to focus only on women refugees and do hackathon focused on Health, Education and Employment, and Gender-based Violence. Women are often the most vulnerable social group during crisis - and the conflict spreading across Middle East is no exception. Culturally, women in the Middle East are expected to be responsible for everything in the domestic life, irrespective of whether they are working or not. This places an enormous burden on women in conflict because not only are they key targets of violence, they have a lot to lose and the whole family unit counts on them to be strong despite trauma.

I believe when you prepare women to be an efficient citizens, you build a healthier society. With each hackathon, I’m contributing to a thought leadership within Chayn that figures out how we can make these events a catalyst for sustainable change. #EmpowerHack was a game changer. A collaboration between Chayn and the amazing Han Pham, an experienced service & systems designer and Kimi, a committed developer and Chayn volunteer, who were super determined to make the hackathon an international movement. We held in depth interviews with NGOs who deal with refugees in the above three areas. so the solution created were a real response to the crisis. 

Hackathons are a great way to respond to humanitarian crisis and support the traditional work of NGOs. It’s not competing with their existing work model but instead fits in as a part of it to allow them to be more agile, responsive and efficient. 

By being a part of the refugee hackathons, I had the chance to feel that I can do something useful and contribute to the community during any crisis and especially the crisis which is happening now back in my country. By enabling women through new skills and opportunities, we ensure they can use it to earn money and avoid harassment, educate themselves and be able to use these skills when they go back home.

Recently,I represented Chayn along with Wisam,to speak on “How the technology can empower Syrian women refugees” at The University of Westminster for Media students. The workshop was organised by  Mujde, the founder of Kizcode who wanted to shed the light on the challenges faced by women refugees. The workshop focused on the existing technology to empower women refugees and aim to create better understanding on the role of technology to create solutions. In the second part of the workshop, we asked students to be in groups and trying to generate ideas using tech to help and support women refugees. This work has given me an invaluable opportunity to practice the leadership skills that I discovered in WYSE. 

When I went to the WYSE ILP, I had no expectations about how the programme works. I only trusted my friend Ahmed  who highly recommended the programme. It gave me a new life. I found my heart again there. Being just short of magic, WYSE is a programme that helps you to find the magic inside of you. It is designed to help you understand how to drive yourself. After the programme I kept getting support from my mentor and the amazing WYSE community. It provides you with the right ecosystem to grow and see others grow, inspired by the difference between you and them. You can truly understand how the community can support the individual to develop while at the same time the community is growing through the individuals. The more you give the community and support members, the more community gives back. It’s great to know that you have a community of people who believe in you, share the same dreams as you to build a better world for everyone. This excitement and enthusiasm will enable you to shine in your world.  

During 2015 I learnt how I can bring about a little change around me by volunteering and this has given me faith in the merit of volunteering more than ever. Volunteering can make the biggest impact on our life and people around us. Volunteers have been called the heros of the refugee crisis engulfing our world at the moment. People selflessly coming together for a worthy cause are making the crisis response stronger, bolder and more efficient. Wouldn’t this make you believe that there is yet hope for a better world?

John Cummings