Wars fundamentally damage lives of civilians and the war within Syria is no exception. It forced millions of Syrians to leave their homes and take refuge in several Middle Eastern countries including Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon.
Mojahed Akil, a Syrian computer programmer who took his share from the massive social and psychological trauma inflicted upon innocent people, flew to Turkey in 2013. He was among few “lucky” ones who could find a chance to pass a border. Mojahed who was neither familiar with Turkey nor Turkish language, settled in Gaziantep, a province close to Turkey’s southeastern border.
As a solution to the challenges that Mujahed and his Syrian counterparts faced, young programmer developed Gherbtna. A web platform which is also available on iOS and Android, Gherbtna aims to help make Syrian refugees’ lives easier by providing access to relevant information for them.
Here is an interview with Mojahed, on how a fourth year engineering student in Syria ended up developing a platform in Turkey, for helping Syrian refugees in several other host countries.
Since when are you in Turkey? What were you doing in Syria before coming to Turkey?
I moved to Turkey on 25 September 2013. I was studying informatics engineering at a private university in my home country. I am also interested in computer programming and software developing since my early school days.
I started my own programming office in Syria which gave me the opportunity to enhance my knowledge on the subject while studying. I also got a unique chance to work for a private technology company specialized in web designing and developing in Gaziantep. Hence as a web developer that is very engaging. Moreover I learned the Turkish language.
What do you aim with Gherbtna? How do you help refugees? What are the main functions of the app?
When I first came here to Turkey as a refugee, I knew nothing about Turkish language nor the country. I was frightened from situation in Syria, my home country. I lived and witnessed all the suffering that Syrian refugees face when they arrive here seeking protection. Escaping from the oppressive rule in their countries, these people are venture away from their houses leaving everything behind and seeking a better life for their families.
From my own experience I learned that knowledge is power and the best way to help these victims, the best thing to support these refugees is to educate yourself, get facts and work hard. I started to think about how I can reach these people directly and easily. This is how the idea of Gherbtna was born. I aimed helping refugees by providing useful information about the host countries and I learned app developing.
The app has different sections like jobs offers, registration requirements for Syrian students to attend universities, regulation regarding residence permits and information about settlements like which areas are safe and which are being shelled… Anything that is useful for Syrian refugees.
How long did it take for you to develop the app and publish it? Did you get any help?
I launched Gherbtna app on January 1st ,2014 as a full package app, coming with website and an online radio station. This is a separate project published on March ,2014. We have a team consisting of web developers and data entry personnel and a radio announcer.
Do you have any plans to make money from the app? How?
My plan for now is to find a funder to support us and invest in the project. We are struggling to find a funder in order to sustain the project and keep improving it. We want to turn Gherbtna a platform reaching refugees all around the world.
Which Syrian refugees do you target? I wonder how Syrian refugees in the refugee camps can access Gherbtna, do they have smart phones or internet connection?
We can reach refugees in the camps as refugees agency (UNHRC) provides internet access to most of the refugee camps. We aspire to reach all the people who need us.