GUEST BLOG: Gaurav Mishra, Google

 

Working in the tech industry, I have internalized the concept of scalability. Every line of code I write should be able to solve a problem for billions of people. My addiction with scalability often makes me forget the value of doing unscalable things – such as the stand-alone good deeds or acts that directly impact a handful of people, rather than faceless millions.

Seeing this pattern, I set a personal goal to do something unscalable — I signed up to #TravelforGood with Effect Expeditions.

The destination: Greece.
The task: Hack the Refugee Crisis.

I joined a group of volunteers from across the world, and together we learned first-hand from refugees. We visited refugee camps, shared meals together, and put our skills to work during the Effect Hackathon – a 3-day tactical experience where volunteers apply their skills to support local nonprofits overcome technical and organizational barriers.

Sharing good foods with good friends!

To support Effect.org in their efforts to run the expeditions and operate primary schools in India, fundraising is a big aspect of the experience. I never fundraised before, and I was excited about the challenge. Raising the funds meant that I needed to talk to many people about the expedition and the issue – I organized an event at Google and posted about my efforts on social media. (I even ran 100km race to spread the word!)

Me fundraising at Google in London

An interesting outcome of this experience were the conversations I had with colleagues and friends. While many welcomed and supported the effort, others asked why I needed to travel to Greece to make an impact. Some suggested that I could send the money directly to local organizations and let them tackle the crisis. I learned from each of these conversations and used these as yardsticks to measure the impact of my work.

What I found truly surprised me.

The beauty of Athens

When I arrived in Athens on a chilly night, I was excited and anxious about what lay ahead. The questions of why I traveled so far to do this work were looming in my mind’s eye. When I joined with the other volunteers and began our visit with refugees and those serving them, my hesitations began to disappear.

Oinofyta, about an hour outside of Athens, was the first refugee camp we visited. Lisa Campbell and her team from DoYourPart.org (with some support from the Greek government) run the 600 residential camp. It was a drab scene with a few dusty buildings and containers turned into a computer lab, a schoolhouse, a health clinic, a playroom for kids and a sewing shop for residents.

Kids ran about, blissfully ignoring the crisis that wrapped around them. Lisa, fighting many odds, has transformed the camp from a shelter for asylum seekers to a place where they can recover from their hardships and adapt to the new society.

Containers at Oinofyta refugee camp

We also visited Elefsina, a shipyard turned refugee camp primarily run by the Greek government. In stark contrast to Oinofyta, there were fewer facilities leaving the residents with little to do.

Sleeping quarters at Elefsina refugee camp

Because of these dire conditions, the daily life of a refugee is laced with boredom and pessimism – volunteers play an essential role in elevating this. Our group, for example, led a spontaneous music lesson that led to children and adults singing, clapping, and dancing.

Jamming with the kids




 

The one and only, Lisa Campbell

Seeing how challenging it is to run these camps made me realize that although money facilitates change, someone needs to be there to carry out the tasks and uplift spirits. When I met Lisa Campbell, who lives thousands of miles away from her family and home, I was in awe of her talents and unconditional commitment to establish a nourishing shelter for refugees. Her work made me experience first-hand that it is impossible to measure the impact of providing a person with a sense of belonging.

After experiencing these camps and feeling the impacts, I was excited to put my learnings to work. During the Effect Hackathon, our group split up and worked with two organizations, Campfire Innovation and Solomon.

Hacking for the refugees, with refugees

Ioanna Theodorou spreads the idea of ‘smart aid’ through Campfire Innovation – they guide smaller organizations to move fast and work efficiently.

Solomon, run by Fanis Kollias, is a small non-profit platform for refugees, migrants, and locals to find common ground through journalistic and creative content (watch their short video on perceived stereotypes).

Working with these organizations was my moment of understanding how this work can be measured. I used my knowledge of Youtube and social media plugins to help Solomon increase their online social presence. Our team leveraged our experience from the onboarding process at Google to create material for Campfire Innovation, helping them to train new volunteers.

Our crew

This trip was enhanced by the relationships I developed, and the moments I shared with others. My fellow volunteers were intensely passionate about the cause and gave it their all to achieve something meaningful.

By shifting my perspective from the scalable and measurable, I found myself in awe of two major themes:

We as individuals can make a specific impact on a crisis that cannot be solely achieved by local organizations. In short, it takes a village.
We protect what we love, and we only love what we know. Awareness of the situation and direct engagement will solve the crisis, not by just sending money from afar.

There is still a lot of work to be done, but when we work together, we can do it. If you’re ready to work, apply to #TravelforGood with Effect Expeditions.

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