From a Curriculum to a Nonprofit: One Year On
The origin of One Digital World (ODW) can be traced back to prior experience with Movement On the Ground Stiching in Lesvos, Greece from March 2017 to January 2018. During this time, ODW founder and Executive Director, Casey Myers, volunteered as an ESL instructor for refugees during the European refugee crisis. Myers taught her students to make resumes and recognized a need for introductory level computer and internet skills. She observed that her students faced difficulties finding jobs, resources, and had no support once they left the camp. An Australian study supported this finding “without access to information, migrants run the risk of remaining excluded from mainstream information sources and subsequently failing to integrate and to participate in society as full citizens”. While a study on Somali refugees found they also have difficulty with integration because language is a barrier to accessing vital information.
She then attended the University of San Diego to pursue a Masters of Social Innovation, and while there, competed in the Fowler Global Social Innovation Challenge from January - May 2019, during which she designed the Computer Basics for Refugees program, winning the USD Social Innovation Showcase and the Audience Choice Award.
From her field experience and research into peer-reviewed literature, she developed the Computer Basics for Refugees and Asylum Seekers curriculum. Myers was recruited by Glocal Roots to create a computer lab project in Samos, Greece, which she piloted in the summer of 2019. She developed the program by proposing the project, developing the budget, assisting with fundraising, procuring supplies, developing the curriculum, as well as recruiting and teaching students. During her four-month pilot, over 200 refugees successfully completed the program. The success of these projects led to the founding of One Digital World in 2020 to empower refugees by connecting them with computer and education access.
In late 2019 - early 2020, Myers began exploring and mapping the landscape in Tijuana, Mexico to serve refugee populations closer to home. In March 2020, One Digital World was founded in San Diego, California with the intention to serve refugees across the Mexican border only 30 miles south. After conducting landscape mapping and a community needs assessment, ODW created a partnership with a migrant shelter, to open the first ODW location in their space, serving refugees and asylum seekers housed there.
Now, just over a year since the ODW curriculum was implemented in Samos, it's time to reflect on what was learned and begin the next chapter of One Digital World’s story in Tijuana, Mexico.
The lab in Samos was relatively basic. To begin with, it just composed of sixteen laptops around the wall of an old shop. Yet it developed and improved as we did, and within a few short months, it became an important part of the Samos humanitarian infrastructure. In the evenings, the computer lab became open to all refugees in Samos and was extremely popular. Many attendees were students of the One Digital World course who came to practice what they had learned earlier that day.
Computer classes in Samos were dedicated entirely towards women. Partially this was due to the request of Glocal Roots, which ran the only centre for refugee women in Samos, but more so we recognised that NGO spaces in Samos, whether by design or not, had mostly male attendees. So, establishing a safe, and comfortable space where refugee women could come and learn was of critical importance to Myers.
This wasn’t difficult, although it is often believed that women from Iran, Afghanistan, Syria, and Iraq, are conservative, repressed, or even dominated by their husbands or families. Yet this is not something we experienced, with people quickly signing up (at times we even had a two-month waiting list) expressing a real interest to learn, even those who had little to no prior schooling.
Sadly, It is slightly commonplace in media portrayals of refugees, that they are viewed as victims lacking agency. This unfortunate stereotype was disproved every day.
We assisted over 200 women in Samos and every single one stated that the main reason they wanted to learn computer skills was to help them gain employment once resettled.
But even those who completed the curriculum remained part of the project, helping to facilitate other classes and teaching the next cohort of women the skills they had learned.
Some remain in touch with Myers to this day and shared testimonials as a part of our recent fundraiser.
In many ways though, Myers' experience in Samos was more of a learning experience.
She had to adapt the curriculum to better represent the real needs of refugees. For example, we learned the importance of being flexible, as we taught adults, some of whom had experienced some trauma, we realised that we needed to work hard to ensure that people kept returning to class. To do this, we worked hard to foster a welcoming, supportive environment, where people were free to try new things, make new friends and develop themselves. Also, many of our students had childcare responsibilities, which of course was their priority. Understanding this, we helped them find arrangements so they could learn safe in the knowledge their children were being cared for.
We learned these lessons and have adapted.
Now we look to the future. Although the world of 2020 is an altogether different one than the world of 2019, and Mexico is an altogether different place to Greece. We are ready to begin.
As of right now, we have secured the computers, equipment, and space needed and are currently teachers and financial sponsors to support our mission.