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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.”

2 thoughts on “How humanitarian organisations like UNHCR are using Skype

  1. jay.atwood said 5 years ago

    What is your reasoning for not allowing other people to benefit from this low-bandwidth version of Skype? I feel like this article is just bragging about a capability that you seem to have, but will not let everyone use if they need it.

    • Jacqueline Botterill said 5 years ago

      UNHCR is the first partner to benefit from this low-bandwidth version of Skype for Windows. A large dispersed organisation such as UNHCR is an ideal testing environment to evaluate the performance of this software in a wide variety of challenging connectivity networks. Up until now we have been focused on ensuring a successful roll-out of Skype to a planned 80 to 85 per cent of UNHCR “hardship” locations before the end of 2011.

      As such, it is not currently available to other organisations or the general public to download. It is clear to us however, that others could and would benefit from the changes and the lessons learned during the evaluation of the software that Skype has developed for UNHCR.

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