Reflections on World Refugee Day: Lessons from Lebanon
by Michele Malejki, Global Head of Strategic Programs, Sustainability & Social Innovation, HP Inc.
Last March, I visited nine schools throughout Lebanon with HP, as part of our partnership with the Clooney Foundation for Justice and UNICEF. As our work will support the education of nearly 4,000 Syrian refugees and thousands of Lebanese students, the focus of the trip was to listen and learn — to talk with teachers and principals so as to better assess the unique technology needs of their schools.
When I returned to Lebanon last month, I was able to see the sustainable impact of our partnership in action — here were empowered teachers, using technology to bridge gaps of knowledge and support their students build bright futures.
I walked into one classroom and saw rows of students, boys and girls huddled around laptops, learning about freshwater animals. In another class, the students were using their computers to draw, a lesson fueled by creativity. The teacher moved from desk to desk, helping the students to navigate the new technology. The moment was incredibly profound — but I knew this was just the beginning.
More than 65 million people around the world have been forcibly displaced, a record high since World War II, according to the U.N. Refugee Agency. Only a small number of refugees — less than 1 percent of 17.5 million in 2016 — will ever be resettled. In communities of refugee crisis, we’ve seen technology prove a powerful tool in enabling and empowering refugees to build better, more prosperous lives.
Today, we recognize World Refugee Day — a day held every year on June 20th to commemorate the strength, courage and resilience of millions of refugees. I’m proud to work at a company committed to supporting refugees build a new way of life. But as I think about what today means, it’s less about staggering numbers and more about the fact that these are people — individuals with talents, passion, and dreams.
Our partners — the Clooney Foundation for Justice, UNICEF, the Lebanese Ministry of Education and Higher Education, and the local communities throughout Lebanon — play a critical role in the success of this program. While we’re the technology experts, local residents know the needs and aspirations of their communities intimately, from local governments’ regulations to how to work with limited power resources. Together, we can build systemic solutions for these communities.
We see the way our technology is meeting people where they are — and taking them where they want to go. Take Amal, a teacher-turned-computer technician at a public school in Beirut. A combination of YouTube and self-instruction led to her being the school’s only computer expert. She’s now using technology to spark innovation and learning for her Lebanese and Syrian refugee students alike.
Today, we aim to not only celebrate and amplify the voices and stories of refugees around the world, but also shift mindsets and reinvent the way people think about refugees. Join us in changing perceptions — and changing the dialogue — as we highlight their stories, hopes and dreams.