In an effort to improve digital equity, computer literacy, and citizen civic engagement through online material and programs, the City of Seattle has awarded nearly $500,000 in funding to community groups and nonprofits through the Technology Matching Fund. Offering up to $30,000 per group or organization, awardees are required to match the city dollars they receive half to one with volunteer labor, materials, professional service, or funding.
Coalition for Refugees from Burma (CRB) is one of the 22 nonprofit groups in Seattle granted funds through the Technology Matching Fund. CRB’s project Nexus: Connecting Newcomers with Technology is a program focused on teaching computer literacy courses, training parents of school-age youth to support their children’s education, and offering enrichment programs that engage youth with high-tech concepts and careers. As part of the project, CRB will also buy 10 new laptops for refugees to use throughout computer training courses.
While this is the third time the nonprofit has received funding through the Technology Matching Fund, CRB will be using this year’s $28,777 award in a whole new way, to address technology equity among a broader spectrum of newly-arrived refugees, which include refugees from all of the world, including Burma, with the help of partnering organizations, Somali Youth and Family Club (SYFC) and Seattle World School.
“What we know we should share,” said executive director and CRB founder Mona Han. “We are at a stage where some of our programs have matured and we are in a position to give technical assistance to other small community-based organizations.”
Han started CRB with friends in 2009 after volunteering for nearly a year at 9 of the 11 refugee camps along the Thai and Burma border. CRB initially assisted Burmese refugees with everything from doctor appointments to establishing parent and school relationships and translating, but down the line, with a firm belief that education is the fastest ticket out of poverty, Han focused CRB’s efforts on education programs. Today CRB continues to focus on education programming. In addition to assisting Burmese refugees, it provides assistance to a breadth of newly-arrived refugees in need, with one of their programs last year consisting of 14 language groups.
Partnering with SYFC seemed like a natural fit, Han said. Not only was CRB already assisting a large group of Somali, Ethiopian, and East African children through their after school programs, but SYFC was also interested in improving computer literacy within their community.
Siobhan Whalan, the Youth Program Manager of CRB, who wrote the Nexus grant with Han, expressed her excitement about teaming up with SYFC. “This tight partnership and collaboration with another community-based organization is something that I know Mona is really passionate about,” Whalan said. “I’m really excited for the opportunity to share our knowledge and for them to share their knowledge and expertise. I really hope the success of this partnership will reverberate and hopefully show funders and other community based organizations that when we are working together we can really make a difference.”
CRB plans to train SYFC teachers how to teach basic computer and Microsoft Application classes, so in turn, SYFC can hold their own computer training classes and reduce computer illiteracy among Somali refugees within their community. Curriculum, partially created through CRB’s previous Technology Matching Fund grants, will be provided to SYFC, along with Laptops, to ensure the group has everything they need to be totally self sufficient. “Like teaching people how to fish.” Han explained. “It’s the same idea.”
CRB will also team up with Seattle World School to increase refugee parents’ engagement in the school system. The two groups plan to create a program called PASS, Parents Academy for Student Success, to teach parents basic computer skills and how to navigate the school system, so they can learn to independently check their children’s grades and attendance and communicate with teachers by email.
Encouraging refugee youth to aspire toward careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) is another way CRB hopes to brighten futures. “Any exposure to STEM education is good for the kids,” Han said. Newly-arrived refugee youth may lack opportunities to enrich themselves with science, math, and technology at home, but some of the Nexus grant money will be used to expose them to technology and STEM through computer classes and possibly even a robotics education program available through Boeing’s The Museum of Flight, she explained.
“Technology is everywhere … so when everyone’s moving away from paper-base to technology-base, if people are not catching up … they are always going to be left behind and poverty stricken,” Han said. “I think digital literacy is a basic human right.”