Written by: Sierra Goerg

Utilizing technology to help refugees, Yunus&Youth fellow Yasmin Morais and her team are determined to close the gap of access to education among children refugees with their application, RefEd.

When Yasmin was 15 years old, she had the opportunity to travel abroad for the first time to study English and Global Leadership at the University of Oxford in England. This experience widened her perspectives of other cultures and issues happening in the world. “I was learning so much just being around people who were different than me,” Yasmin explained. “I learned that even the most developed countries have similar problems to Brazil.” Yasmin grew up in a poorer region of Brazil, which instilled a sense of social and economic inequality. “And in conversations with my classmates, I realized that cooperation and dialogue between countries could make a big difference in the world.” The experience at Oxford jumpstarted her desire to make a change in the world.

Yasmin embraced her love for culture, politics, and social change and is studying international relations at Boston University. It was in one of her courses, Forced Migration and Human Trafficking, which sparked the idea for RefEd. The class was split into groups to tackle different problems within the refugee crisis. Yasmin’s group focused on refugee education, and that is where she had her first contact with the accessibility problem.

“It was shocking for us,” Yasmin exclaimed, “We didn’t realize the numbers were so big.” In 2016 the UNHCR, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, estimated that the number of refugees without access to education was around 3.5 million. A year later that number increased by half a million. However those numbers are only estimates, and there is a good chance those numbers could be higher. Yasmin and her team decided that they could use technology and create an app to help deliver and provide education to refugee children. This is where RefEd was born.

The passion for refugee education exceeded the classroom, and with support from their professor, Yasmin and her team quickly decided to pursue RefEd in the real world. “Our professor would always emphasize to think like entrepreneurs and not just as students,” Yasmin said. Taking her professor’s advice, her team applied for Boston University’s “Spark!” innovation fellowship program where they could start developing a pilot. The following semester in the spring of 2018 they were accepted, and Yasmin enrolled in an entrepreneurship class where she learned about customer validation and how to refine RefEd’s mission. Today the RefEd team consists of five members: Yasmin as the executive director, a content director, software developer, communications director, and a translator since all of their content is available in Arabic.

RefEd’s current pilot program focuses on mathematics for children aged 9-13 years old. The team spent months creating a curriculum that would be appropriate for the children’s age group as well as complement their past education. They had it validated by professors at the Boston University School of Education and professors at Teach for America. It integrates both American and Syrian curriculum to supplement the students with an education they can bring with them in hopes to join an educational system in the future.

Four diverse animated characters guide the students across the platform. “It was important to us that the children could relate to the content that they’re learning,” Yasmin stated, so they made sure that the characters were individuals the children could identify with. The characters help teach five different math chapters ranging from ratio and proportional relationships, the number system, expressions and equations, geometry, and statistics and probability. The children can access 35 video lessons that cover 160 math problems. There are plans to create more content in the future.

In June, Yasmin and her team prepare to implement their pilot program in Greece with their first partner, Seeds of Humanity. They will be met with 150 children refugees and receive real-time feedback on both the app and their curriculum. An initial assessment will be performed to test the children’s level of comprehension within the module, and a final evaluation will occur to see if the app helped the children learn and grasp the concepts.

Yasmin looks forward to working with the Yunus&Youth mentors to create a plan to make RefEd a social enterprise. After graduation, she states that “if we can make RefEd financially sustainable, which I know we can with help from Yunus&Youth, I would love to split my time between receiving my masters in international development and working with RefEd.” Yasmin is currently living in Brazil taking a financial break from college but is determined to return to school and have RefEd reach as many children refugees as possible, “I applied for a scholarship – fingers crossed. My family is going after what we need, and I’m working here too to not give up on the dream.”