Spring ’20 Volunteer Interviews: Coding with Refugee Teens at Social Hackers Academy
How did you decide to volunteer? How did CYA help you find the best fit for you?
Do you think you gave back to the community and how?
In my opinion, Social Hackers Academy is a very special organization in Athens because it seeks to offer a sustainable solution to the refugee crisis in Greece through empowering its students with a path towards a prosperous career in the ever-growing tech industry. With that in mind, I’m very thankful to have been entrusted with such a rewarding and important responsibility to help foster such a critical phase of career development. As a mentor, I’ve sought to empower my talented students by emphasizing our similarities rather than differences – most of all, our shared love of technology and desire to harness its power to make the world a better place – and by urging them to think ambitiously about careers at famous tech companies or further education in the US or elsewhere. I’d consider it a resounding success if these efforts have played any role in helping to move my students one step closer to their goals.
Do you think volunteering changed your view of Athens? Why or why not?
Although Athens is best known for its ancient history, working with SHA allowed me to explore another side of the city – its growing status as a regional hub for technology and entrepreneurship. SHA is very well-plugged-in to the city’s tech ecosystem, and I relished every moment of my time spent with the local software developers, expat volunteers, and tech-savvy students. One day, for example, a fellow volunteer took me to visit Hackerspace.gr (https://www.hackerspace.gr/), a space open to the public for coders, engineers, and builders to work on personal projects. Especially since CYA is a more humanities-focused program, it was very great to dip my toes in Athens’ tech scene through SHA!
Did volunteering encourage you to explore different parts of Athens/Greece?
SHA is located on a vibrant street near Omonoia square which is marked by signage in Bengali in addition to Greek, and by street-vendors selling delicious South Asian fast food rather than gyros or souvlaki. Ever since my first day working there, I fell in love with the neighborhood and the contrast it posed with the rest of Athens. Spending time at SHA and exploring the restaurants and shops of its environs showed me a pocket of diversity in Athens which greatly augmented my perception of the city, and helped to contextualize some of the reading I’d been doing in classes at CYA about the refugee crisis which has affected Greece greatly in recent years.
Did you meet any new friends while volunteering?
Of course! My supervisor Abed, the organization’s Head of Education and the recipient of a Vodafone Foundation grant, is definitely the closest connection I made at the organization, but I also became good friends with my five students, who hailed from places as far as Afghanistan and Sierra Leone but all shared a common passion for technology and its global potential. Additionally, it was a fun experience to get to know my fellow volunteers – whether Greek software developers, German consultants, or American video game artists – and to hear their best recommendations for the coolest restaurants, music venues, and activities in Athens, which gave me constant motivation to explore the whole city of Athens beyond just Pangrati.”