By Kelli Hogan
Editor’s Note: Kelli Hogan, a marketing manager at Google, was a member of the 12-person NetHope Team K deployment to Greece and its official mission storyteller.
Drama, Greece — “Would you like a cup of coffee?” Donaje, 15, asked while I was working outside of her family’s room. Grateful, I accepted and was invited inside to speak with her and her cousin Sevine (pictured above), who is 13. The two girls left Aleppo five years ago. After migrating through Turkey, they arrived in Greece by boat — a terrifying journey that continues to haunt them.
Sevine is the only one in her immediate family left in Greece. Her parents have made their way to Denmark, and she hopes to join them soon. She’s staying in the camp with her cousin Donaje and her aunt. Donaje and her mother have applied to be relocated to Germany, where Donaje’s father has settled. She misses him terribly and longs to be reunited. She does not speak to him as much as she would like because of limited and costly connectivity.
Thanks to that obstacle, the girls have lost the ability to communicate with — and learn about — the outside world. Data is expensive, and they cannot afford to buy much credit, so Donaje’s mother rations smartphone use. NetHope’s installation of free Wi-Fi brings much relief, especially as one of the access points is located near the family’s living space.
There is very little to do in the camp. It consists of the bare minimum – living spaces, bathrooms, and a few offices for agencies that intermittently provide support. There are no classrooms, no books, no recreational rooms. The cousins long for school and have requested resources to learn English — English was their favorite class in school — but they have not been able to receive any form of instruction.
Despite this, the two girls still look very much toward the future. Sevine dreams of becoming a teacher to help young children learn how to read and write. She believes everyone should have access to education. Donaje wants to become a lawyer so she can help people who are in vulnerable positions like the one she’s been stuck in. She doesn’t want any other children to experience the circumstances she’s endured. Both girls lament that they have been forced to grow up too fast. Five years of their youth have been lost to war, migration, and camps; and they both miss having fun and any semblance of normalcy. They both say they want their innocence back.
The NetHope-led Syrian Refugee Connectivity Alliance was made possible by the support of Cisco, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, The Patterson Foundation and UNHCR.