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Entrepreneurs Launch Coding School For Refugees In Germany

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Team starts to teach coding to refugees.

“Weston Hankins, an entrepreneur in Germany currently juggling three startups, was complaining to a friend one night about the lack of computer programmers in Berlin, when they stumbled into an idea: What if they trained refugees to code?

“It was just so obvious,” said Hankins, who, along with his friend Anne Kjær Riechert, reasoned that coding classes for refugees would not only offset a shortage of technical skills across Europe, but also help kickstart the students’ new lives.” said



“Friends of Refugees on Rails take some promo photos for the non-profit.

“We can help them integrate because we know the startup community and we’re well connected here,” Hankins said. Also, he pointed out, “they need something to do.”

The unprecedented influx of migrants to Europe, driven by the war in Syria, has created a massive backlog for authorities tasked with sorting out the new arrivals. As they figure out who’s who, where each person came from, whether they should be permitted to stay and where there is space to accommodate them, migrants have little else to do, but wait.

This limbo can drag on for months, dampening the euphoria of finally making it to Europe, after so much hardship.” said


“In Germany, which has received the vast bulk of asylum seekers entering Europe — some 600,000 already this year — this long waiting period is a problem that’s difficult to ignore. On any given day in Berlin, hundreds of newly arrived migrants are camping outside the city’s health and social affairs office, waiting for their numbers to be called. They are strolling around refugee camps or sitting on park benches, as commuters and time pass by.

Many Germans have been eager to help. As hundreds of thousands of people poured into the country over the last few months— by rail, by foot, sometimes jammed into the back of trucks— volunteers have lined up to hand out food, and even invite them to rest at their homes.” said

refugees on rails anne riechert founder


“Riechert took note of the huge outpouring of support and had been brainstorming how this energy could best be used. She is the founder of Berlin’s Peace Innovation Lab, a Stanford University-linked network of thinkers who brainstorm solutions to global problems.

The Innovation Lab had already devoted two meetings to the topic when Hankins complained to her in late August about the trouble of finding good coders.

Just days later, the pair launched a website for their project, which they named Refugees on the Rails — a play on “ruby on rails,” the beginner-friendly programming framework they decided to teach.

In a matter of weeks, Hankins, Riechert and Ahmet Acar, consultant friend they brought on as a partner, secured dozens of donated laptops and offers for free office space.” said

“Hankins, who cut his teeth as Couch Surfing’s chief technical officer, began putting together a curriculum and planting seeds for coding schools in other European cities. The group also hit the refugee camps to look for students.

Muhammed, a 26-year-old from the Syrian city of Aleppo, was one of the first to sign up, figuring he had nothing lose. He has been in Germany for 10 months already, but has not been permitted to apply for jobs, look for an apartment or even travel outside of Berlin as he waits for authorities to sort out his legal status.

Like so many others fleeing war, Muhammed’s life was on hold long before he arrived in Europe.

He left his city at the age of 22, not long after graduating with a degree in business administration and opening his first restaurant. For the next four years, he bounced around the region, as fighting leveled his city. He tried the United Arab Emirates, Libya, Egypt, Turkey, but had trouble seeing a future for himself in any of these countries. When his brothers made it to northern Europe, he decided to join them there, but was fingerprinted by authorities in Hungary, complicating his bid for asylum anywhere else.

A lawyer in Germany is working on his case, and in the meantime, there is little he can do.” said

Future students - Syrian Refugees

“After ten months I am still doing nothing, just waiting. And I don’t know for how long,” he said. “So it’s nice if we can do something to change our future…If we really learn something about programming, it can be useful.”

“Hankins and his partners are still finalizing plans before their first class later this month. But they’ve settled on an outline for a three-month course that will give students of varying skill levels the chance to team up with each other and create their own products or startups.

“We can [include] the professional data programmer that has never done ruby…and someone who doesn’t care much about programming, but wants to focus on the design side,” Hankins said. “As they work together in groups their skills can compliment each other.”

Muhammed thinks that learning to make his own website will help him open a business — perhaps another restaurant — wherever he winds up. Another prospective student is mulling a website that will be useful to him and other refugees right away: an Arabic-language guide to Berlin, specifically geared toward refugees.” said

“Whether or not their businesses succeed, Hankins hopes that the school will at least give students a new sense of purpose.

“It is a coding school for refugees, as we call it, but it is more of an integration program. It’s getting them into different locations in Berlin and giving them exposure to different people,” Hankins said.

And if along the way he happens to stumble upon good techies to fill some vacancies of his own, Hankins said, “that would be really cool too.”” said

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“Entrepreneurs Launch Coding School For Refugees In Germany”