How humanitarian organisations like UNHCR are using Skype
In under a year significant progress has been made with the rollout of Skype’s bespoke low-bandwidth solution for the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). The introduction of Skype has had a positive impact on the lives of many employees who were previously disconnected from their families and friends whilst working in ‘hardship’ locations around the world.
A joint article has been published in Forced Migration Review – the world’s most widely read magazine on refugee, internal displacement and statelessness issues – discussing the partnership between Skype, UNHCR and the Government of Luxembourg, and how the bespoke technology might be adapted for use by other humanitarian organisations.
Meanwhile, UNHCR employee Simplice Kpadnji share’s his story of how Skype video calling has made a difference to his well-being and that of his family:
“My family lives in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. I see them every 8 weeks” says Simplice. “Between visits, I use Skype to communicate with them, especially with my children who are 3 and 4. I call them everyday at 8pm.”
Simplice with one of his two children
Simplice has been working for UNHCR for more than 8 years. Over a year ago he moved to Goma, in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, to take up a new role as Public Information Officer. His main responsibility is to provide information on refugees to the media and public.
Since his arrival, Simplice has experienced considerable challenges common to many UNHCR employees in field locations. He has worked in difficult situations and spent long periods of time away from his family.
Being able to talk to his family every single day is very important to Simplice. “It is really fantastic. Sometimes we stay online for one or two hours. My children can talk to me and ask me questions like what I have done during the day. They enjoy it very much. They also talk about their activities and their friends. Through Skype, I see them playing and joking around. It is so important to us. I really feel like I am at home.”
This is a feeling shared by Simplice’s wife: “Since we do not have you [Simplice] here, Skype gives us the feeling that you are always with us, even if you are far away.”
The effect this daily interaction has on Simplice is both wonderful and immediate: “After talking to them, I feel calm, happy and comfortable, knowing they are feeling well and being able to discuss with them.”
Skype became even more important when Côte d’Ivoire fell back into civil war earlier this year. “It was so stressful knowing that I was here in Goma and that my family was far from me. I tried to make them come to Nairobi but the airport was closed and they could not travel. However, we managed to keep in touch through Skype. The situation in Abidjan was so difficult but, thanks to Skype, I could know that my family was fine and safe. At one point I was calling every hour.”
Simplice remembers this occasion with gratitude and emotion. “It was really great to have Skype at this very sensitive time.”