We arrived at the Bidibidi Refugee Settlement and did not Expect what we Saw

The Bidibidi Refugee Settlement is located in Northern Uganda and is the world's second largest refugee camp at 250 km², hosting over 270,000 South Sudanese refugees who have fled the ongoing civil war. Driving into the settlement is comparable to what one would imagine: UNHCR Tarpaulins, World Food Programme tents distributing grains, and UN workers and trucks busily moving around.

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The roads of the Settlement are rich and red from the clay in Northern Uganda and on either side of the roads, you will find the most beautiful clay huts. Each with a different thatch roof style and varying patterns, textures and colours representing differing South Sudanese cultures and customs.

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Seeing these beautiful huts, and the families sitting outside cooking and spending time together helped to prepare the TWSB team for our first meeting with Twajiji Primary School. However, months of preparation couldn’t have adequately prepared us for what we were to experience.

Twajiji Primary is one of 19 Primary schools in the Bidibidi Settlement. It has 3600 students and with a 1-262 teacher to student ratio. The Brighter Future Initiative collaboration with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) involves initiating our solar-powered solution (The BrightBox) first at Twajiji, and to provide the school with our proven curriculum approach, to equip the school with a computer lab, and to serve as a charging station for the lifesaving medical device, the CRADLE VSA.

Prior to implementing our model, we always meet with the schools/communities we will be working with. We do this to gain a deeper understanding of the community;  to understand their local and social norms and to understand the ecosystem we plan to engage in our holistic program. We do this to better understand the problems they’ve identified first-hand and to validate if our approach can provide value to the barriers they face as a community. In recognizing this approach, we scheduled a meeting with community members from the Twajiji Primary School prior to our arrival. We requested their Headmaster Mr. Boniface and Deputy Head Teacher, Mr. Akenna to bring together key stakeholders from the community: Parents, Teachers, Members from the Parent-Teacher Association, UNHCR Education Officers, and community members. We expected to walk into a classroom and find 20-30 people ready to hold our first meeting.

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We were pleasantly surprised to find over 100 members from the community ready to discuss their children’s education.

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Following introductions, the headmasters explained why the team was there. After a two hour conversation led by Ran Sommer, our Director of Operations and Sukriti Sachar who Directs India Operations, our Ugandan Technology Coordinator, Sadati Mulilo demonstrated our technology-education solution. Sadati, plugged in the Raspberry Pi Microcomputer and set up the teachers with tablets to establish Twajiji’s first computer lab. He connected the tablets to the Pi’s Intranet and showed how they could connect to the educational content now available through it. He streamed Biology videos from Khan Academy, played books on Simbi, and showed how the curriculum supplemented the Ugandan National Curriculum. Watching headmasters, teachers, parents, and students excitedly navigating the content is always awe-inspiring to see. But there was something particularly special about this, in understanding the thousands of people who will be impacted by the Brighter Future Solution.

Recognizing that our small investment in solar and technology would provide 3600 students with access to quality educational content is overwhelming. On one hand, it’s incredible how far a $10,000 investment can go. On the other hand, it can be frustrating in knowing how many people can benefit from this and how many more can be impacted with additional resources.

What excites us the most is realizing that our tiny device provides an educational social safety net.  It provides quality content including everything from Khan Academy, TED, Wikipedia, Simbi, thousands of books, and much more. Today, we live in a world where we have the technology to bring quality education to remote regions and ensure that the opportunities we’ve been given are not restricted to the random lottery of where we were born.

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Following a successful session at Twajiji, our Solar Engineer arrived and setup Twajiji’s first Solar Electrical system that will be used to run the computer lab and curriculum program.

The next day, we met with the UNHCR and Office of the Prime Minister of Uganda to further discuss our approach at Twajiji and how to support additional schools in the Bidibidi Settlement as well as how our approach would be rolled out at the Palorinya Refugee Settlement as well as the Nakivale Refugee Settlement.

For the remainder of the expedition we continued to meet additional communities, schools, and UNHCR representatives in the Yumbe District, Bidibidi, Kampala, and Nakivale to discuss the scope of our program as we approach full implementation in July, and to establish our long-term vision in enhancing access to both education and healthcare at the UNHCR Refugee Settlements.

The CRADLE VSA Device

The CRADLE VSA Device

We have partnered with CRADLE VSA, an accurate, low-cost and easy-to-use device measuring blood pressure and pulse, displaying results with a novel ‘traffic light’ early warning system. The CVSA has been designed to be used by all levels of health worker, even those with little or no medical training like the Village Health Teamworkers (VHTs) within the settlements, which help to prevent avoidable maternal morbidity and mortality

The CRADLE devices will be safely and efficiently charged for free using the solar power that runs the classrooms. As each BrightBox will be outfitted with a Raspberry Pi microcomputer, safe storage and transfer of relevant CRADLE blood pressure data from community to Health Centres will be facilitated.

The integrated and synergetic health and education solution we are applying in partnership with the communities at the Bidibidi and Nakivale Refugee Settlements is on track to impact the lives of 500,000 students by 2024. This goes to show that the holistic approach we have applied with our existing 20 partner-communities in Uganda and India has proven its scalability and potential for reach as we engage with our newfound refugee communities in 2019.

The team outside the UNHCR offices in Kampala, following a 9hr drive that morning!

The team outside the UNHCR offices in Kampala, following a 9hr drive that morning!

The opportunity to create meaningful impact is both an exciting opportunity and as we see it, an obligation. We have the tools and technology to empower the lives of tens of thousands over the next year through the deployment of our education-technology that provides and educational safety net. We are honoured and excited to work with our partners in Canada to help create this impact. We look forward to sharing with you the progression of our program as we approach full implementation in July 2019, and especially look forward to exhibiting the impact of our program with our new partner-communities in Uganda.

-Aaron Friedland, Executive Director &

Ran Sommer, Director of Global Operations

Learn more about the Brighter Future Initiative and get involved!

#RunWithUs at the BMO Vancouver Marathon

Research with our Think Tank

Join us on our July Expedition to the UNHCR Refugee Settlements

Read a Book with Simbi