We started a code school for refugees — Year 1 update

Last year I helped start Social Hackers Academy with my co-founders Chris Owen and Damianos Vavanos. I’m incredibly proud to share that in the last year the school has graduated 7 students and is on track to graduate another 8 in two months. Next year we hope to scale up and begin expanding to new geographies.

It’s hard to describe just how transformational the school is for our students. Prior to starting the school I spent a month at Oinofyta Refugee Camp and three months in Athens’ informal squats. I saw what life is like for some of the world’s most marginalized people. But I also saw a group of talented, ambitious, smart people.

(This is a short documentary I made about the refugee camp I worked at)

When you hear the word “refugee” you probably think of those horrific photos — the boats full of people, the starving children, the tired and the weary. While these images show a part of the refugee experience, they reinforce harmful stereotypes that make us believe all refugees are helpless. Some certainly need more support than others, but so many of the people I met last year only need a little help — “a hand up, not a hand out” as one friend put it.

At our graduation party in Greece this month I asked one of our students how he found Social Hackers Academy and he told me a story about how, living in Moria Refugee Camp, he tried to teach himself to code online. One day he saw a post that another refugee had shared about the school on Facebook. He joined the school and will graduate with another 8 students in two months. After graduating Blondel hopes to work for a tech company in Athens. Then when its safe to return to his country he hopes to go back and start a code school of his own.

All over the world there are millions of people like Blondel — smart, ambitious, kind individuals who want to learn how to code. That’s why we’re raising money to expand the school’s impact.

Currently we can graduate students for about $5,000. Over the next year we expect to bring that number down to $2,500. That means for $2,500 our donors can help a refugee escape poverty and earn $6,000 more within their first year. Over the course of a decade that number can be as high as $100,000, which is a “50x return on donation.”

And while that’s some of the most exciting math I’ve ever seen in my life, it doesn’t describe the full social impact. Every day that students come to our school is a day they don’t spend waiting in what can only be compared to prison (some camps are actually former prisons so the comparison is apt). By finding dignified work our students have an opportunity to take care of their families. Less financial pressure reduces stress and increases physical and mental health. In other words by teaching skills and connecting students to job markets the school does so much more than raise incomes.

A year ago Social Hackers Academy was just an idea — one that countless people told us would be impossible to bring to life. Thanks to the kindness of more than 40 volunteers, dozens of donors, and 15 hard-working students, we’re proving that refugees are as capable, intelligent, and deserving of an education as any other person in the world.

If you’d like to sponsor a student send me a note at mthomas.denver@gmail.com And thanks again to everyone who has helped us so far!