In The World: teaching tech skills to refugees

02 January 2018

Gabriel Abebrese and Gunnar Schoenig both volunteer with the charity App Camps, which gives young people, including refugees, the skills to start a career in tech. The two Barclaycard employees tell us about the satisfaction they get from helping the young people grow in skills and confidence – and how some are already earning money from their ideas.

In 2016 Barclays formed a partnership with German charity App Camps – an organisation dedicated to equipping refugees and other young people with the skills to forge a career in the tech industry. With an estimated 1.4 million refugees moving to Germany since 2014, the partnership offers an opportunity for Barclays employees to help those in difficult circumstances.

One such employee is Gabriel Abebrese, a Source Manager who works for Barclaycard. Gabriel has worked with various charities in the past, but his work with App Camps is the first time he has used his coding skills to help others.

Man holding a tablet device

He says: “I’d done a little bit of charity work through sport, and helped deliver food to those in need, but, until my work with App Camps, I’d never had the chance to help others with coding skills.”

Gunnar Schoenig, who works as a Quality Assurance Manager at Barclaycard, and also volunteers with the charity, says App Camps is a great opportunity to improve the lives of others within his local community.

“Being a refugee in Germany is very difficult – there are cultural differences, and of course the language barrier, that make it particularly challenging. Through my work with App Camps, I hope I can make life a little easier for those coming to Hamburg.”

Gunnar and Gabriel volunteer with App Camps on a regularly basis. They plan and host workshops for young refugees and German youngsters, whose ages range from eight to 18.

Man holding smartphone talking to students

Gabriel believes coding transcends the language barrier, and hopes the workshops help young people build a future in Germany. “In my experience, refugees want to get a job and to integrate into society. These workshops are about helping them make that transition: we want to build young people’s confidence and ultimately help them find employment.”

The Barclays employees teach up to 20 young people at a time, with the lessons taking place in community spaces and local schools. It can be challenging as the students, who come from countries such as Syria, Somalia and Afghanistan, often have very little experience of education.

Gabriel says: “A lot of the children have never been taught before, so they lack many skills which we take for granted, such as the ability to concentrate and focus in class. Essentially, we have to teach them how to learn, before moving onto coding.”

Gabriel and Gunnar are passionate about the work they do with App Camps, and believe it wouldn’t be possible without the support they receive from Barclays.

For Gunnar, there is great satisfaction in the participant’s happiness at the end of a workshop. “I love seeing the smiling faces of the young people when they have invented their app – they are really proud of their work, and so they should be.”

In a short space of time Gunnar and Gabriel have seen significant results, with the students growing their practical skills, confidence – and even earning money from their apps.

“We’ve been working with some of the children for quite a while now, and you wouldn’t believe the difference we’re seeing in them,” says Gabriel. “Two boys have actually sold their app on the android Play Store, which is an amazing achievement.”

The workshops have been so successful that the pair are planning to pilot them in primary schools in 2018. Gunnar says: “We know coding isn’t rocket science. If we can introduce children to the concept as early as possible, there is no reason they can’t pursue a career in the industry.”