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The Inspiring Story of a Refugee Teaching Children How to Code

By Abdikariim Ismael Taashiir

It's motivating to see people who started their ideas from zero and achieved success. One such individual is Remy Gakwaya, founder and director of TakenoLab Technology School. The organization teaches different programming languages such as Python, HTML, JavaScript, CSS and C# in the Dzaleka Refugee Camp located in Malawi.

Remy is a refugee from Burundi and came to Malawi because of the conflict in his country. He was always passionate about programming and studied on his own.

He joined the liberal studies education program offered by Jesuit Worldwide Learning (JWL), a non-profit organization that sponsors education to marginalized people living in refugee camps. The second year in the program, he was motivated by JWL’s philosophy of “giving oneself for others” and came up with an idea to help the stranded refugees in Malawi.

“Self-study in programming connected me to other online opportunities,” he said. “I was earning money and achieved a bit of satisfaction. I soon realized that I wanted to provide these skills to other fellow refugees who cannot make a living as such refugees cannot work in Malawi or establish businesses".

In response to this calling, Remy launched the TakenoLab School. He rented a small room to teach young refugees how to code. He used his own pocket money by paying rent and other necessary utilities. This has also motivated young refugee girls and boys to come and learn to code from Remy. Even though he was not a professional teacher, he was able to passionately share his knowledge.

Students were using books to write programming languages instead of using computers due to the lack of funds. Fortunately, Remy did not stop his journey of helping others. Some of the well-wishers in the community supported his ideas to bring a positive change. These individuals started giving used computers and others resources. This motivated Remy not to give up on his journey.

“I asked my friend for help but he said I cannot help you financially but I could tell my story to others and mobilize support," explained Remy.

This played a role in mobilizing the volunteers in the community and it paved the way for the students to start accessing computers and practicing the different programming languages. Over time and with this motivation, Remy persisted.

“My family and friends told me, 'Remy, do not be disappointed with the challenges that you are facing currently, this thing will be big one day.'”

Fortunately, Remy was able to overcome these initial struggles and challenges. TakenoLab managed to gain support from influencers and international organizations.

“We teach people with zero knowledge about the computer and provide basic knowledge about the usage of computers. Gradually, these students are able to code at such high levels that they can sometimes even challenge me,” said Remy.

The main aim of TakenoLab is to teach everyone in the refugee camp and the host community surroundings regardless of race, religion and culture. Apart from programming, TakenoLab teaches business and entrepreneurship so stranded refugees can create jobs. In addition, the organization delivers content on topics like servant leadership. This is particularly important as all the refugees are displaced from their countries due to poor leadership and TakenoLab sees its role as change maker to help young educated refugees serve their citizens fairly and equally in the future.

“We have achieved a significant milestone in transforming young refugees and the host community (Malawians) who had no hope for the future," explained Remy. "Many were engaged in abusing substances. We equipped them with rich knowledge to help themselves and their community.”

There are now 100 - 150 young refugees who are experts in programming and created multiple useful applications for the refugees as well as the customers of TakenoLab.

“Many people will tell you that what you are doing will not work and you are wasting your time,” Remy shared. "They will give you good reasons to accept what they are saying. Take the good part of their story and format the rest."

Today, TakenoLab is a prominent programming education center in the Dzaleka Refugee Camp in Malawi. It has won different awards for its work and built a strong reputation at the camp, country and international levels.

Key lessons on innovation from Remy

Here are some key points I gleaned from Remy’s story.

Work hard. It is one of the tools that allows innovators to succeed.

Create connections. It is one of the most important ways to acquire funds, build ideas and gain knowledge.

Be courageous. It can help overcome barriers and challenges.

Don’t listen to negative feedback. It is important because many people will say you are doing nonsensical things.

Key takeaways

The story of Remy is motivational and encouraging especially for people who have great ideas but think they can’t be executed due to a lack funds, skills and human resources. I realized that those things are not necessary at the early stage because if you are motivated, dedicated and courageous, connections and opportunities will come your way.

I came to realize that I can start my own consultancy business without any money as Remy started TakenoLab from zero and eventually suceeded with his idea. Therefore, I will make sure to use all the skills and tools to build my own company and through resilience, dedication and courage my company will become successful.

Learn more about Remy Gakwaya and TakenoLab at his LinkedIn profile. Abdikariim Ismael Taashiir is a student Southern New Hampshire University Public Administration. Learn more about him via his LinkedIn profile. He wrote this story after going through the Global Innovators Academy Interview an Innovator experience.

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