True Grit

Abdi Hamisi Ambari is creating a safe passage for Burundi refugees using the short messaging service via an unlikely hero — the Nokia mobile phone

Suffering from the impact of a civil conflict more than a decade ago, many Burundi refugees are still making the arduous journey on foot to neighboring countries in search of safety. To help them make the safe passage, Abdi Hamisi Ambari is using a hardy and reliable mobile device from a bygone era — the trusty Nokia phone.

Many Burundians who are forced to make this journey are doing so without guidance or mobile internet. Often they are unaware that they could be entering a dangerous area or close to one. Ambari identified a need for a live communication service to alert them to the dangers around them. He turned to the same technology that sends text messages about promotions and current sales to mall-goers: geo-fencing.

Ambari is hoping to work with a telecommunication company in Tanzania to provide this communication service. The technology can be used to locate refugees and send them short simple messages on the safety status of that particular area.

The idea of mapping out safety routes was born in one of Ambari’s NYUAD mapping classes, as the state of Burundi and its citizens weighed on his mind.

Relying on students on campus and their contacts, Ambari began getting in touch with people on the ground who could connect him with Burundi refugees and NGOs.

Speaking with refugees to map out the routes, Ambari made sure to allow room for nuances and personal interpretations when speaking with the refugees. “I have to keep in mind what’s fueling the conflict. Is it police violence and therefore the presence of a police station may not be perceived as a safe location to them for example?” Ambari explained.

Ambari is currently working with a team consisting of high school friends and people he had connected with on the ground for this project. While it is hard work piecing information together, the team is determined to continue refining the data points.