A Syrian refugee has created an app that helps displaced people settle into their new life in a foreign country.
Moujahed Akil, a 29-year-old from Aleppo, fled Syria in 2012 for fear of being arrested. When he arrived in Turkey, his host country, he found that the biggest obstacle he faced was communicating with people.
“Not knowing the language was very hard, because I could not even discuss the most basic things needed to start a new life in Turkey,” he told the UNESCO Courier. “For example, I went to the government building where nobody spoke Arabic, and we had to use our hands and feet to understand each other.”
Back home, Akil was a computer information science student who had worked as a freelancer in Information Technology. Given his coding skills, he was able to find a job at a tech company relatively quickly. Being around Turkish colleagues helped him learn the language before too long, but he still thought back to his early days in Turkey, when he had to rely on a translation app to get by.
Wanting to help others who were going through the same thing he experienced, Akil set about building a smartphone app that could help newly arrived Syrian refugees.
In January 2014, Akil established his own business, Namaa Solutions, from which he launched Gherbtna (“our expatriates” in Arabic), which is helping Syrian refugees settle into an unfamiliar environment in a number of ways.
Along with providing tools like Video, Laws, Find a Job, Alerts and even a function allowing users to share personal stories; the app has an “Ask Me” feature that offers information on legal advice, healthcare, opening a bank account and education.
Education was particularly important to Akil: “Many Syrian people are students who wish to continue their studies in Turkish schools and universities, and this is why education is the most relevant category on the Gherbtna app,” he explained.
According to the UNHCR, of the 68.5 million people who have been forcibly displaced across the globe, there are nearly 25.4 million refugees, and over half of them are under the age of 18. Through Gherbtna, these young people can find information about schools and universities where they can continue their studies, as well as determine the certifications they need to enroll.
Along with Gherbtna, Akil launched another venture called Tarjemly Live in 2016. The app connects users to a live human translator, many of whom are refugees themselves, allowing people to break down language barriers in real time. The service can be accessed for a small fee, meaning the app creates work for refugees as well as Turkish people with Arabic language skills.
The story of Moujahed Akil and Namaa Solutions is indicative of the skills Syrians can bring to their new countries—the business is booming, employing 25 people and helping countless new arrivals settle into Turkey.
Yet along with this, Gherbtna is giving those new arrivals the tools to create their own success through education and employment; meaning refugees can not only survive, but thrive.