Refugee camps often lack a steady supply of electricity, leaving refugees unable to charge their mobile phone, keep in touch with loved ones, and find out about important information and developments. Project Elpis is helping refugees stay connected, starting with refugee camps in Greece.
When people flee from conflict or other difficult situations, their smartphones are not just a way to stay connected with those they're leaving behind, they also enable them to gather vital information, transfer money and stay on top of news developments that can help them make decisions, and avoid taking unnecessary risks.
But what good is a smartphone when its battery is flat and there's no way to recharge it? Indeed, this is one key problem refugees face not just while on the move, but also while staying at camps. With basic camp facilities and limited electricity, refugees look for ways to remain connected. At the risk of electrocution, hacking light-poles to recharge their phones is one alternative method often employed.
Project Elpis – a student-led collaboration between the University of Edinburgh, Greek solar technology company Entec, and its partners Solar World, Steca Elektronik and Viosy S.A. - has started bringing access to safe and steady electricity to refugee camps in Greece, through its carbon-neutral solar-powered charging kiosks.
Six solar kiosks are currently in place in refugee camps in Thessaloniki, Lesbos, and Athens. Each enables 12 phones per hour to be charged, and provides a total of ten hours of electricity per day, to some 3600 refugees per month. Given the abundance of sunshine in Greece, it is not just an environmental no-brainer, but apart from the production and installation cost, the project means that electricity is virtually tapped into for free, without placing additional burdens on areas and communities where resources such as water might already be tight.
Project Elpis has been working on an upgrade of its existing units, to incorporate wi-fi connectivity, as well as a Raspery Pi platform to host offline educational materials. The team will be heading out to Greece again in February 2017 to install an additional six solar hubs, and to attach the new Rasperry Pi extension to all 12 of them.
Educational content, which has been prepared by other humanitarian organisations, will be accessible offline, and is to include basic phrase translations, legal materials, medical information, as well as novels and textbooks. A list of useful apps and websites will also be available. All materials will be available in Farsi, Arabic and English, and the the platform will also enable feedback to be exchanged between users and developers, to ensure that the resources truly meet the need of the communities they seek to serve.
Each unit costs 850 GBP to produce, and Alexandros Angelopoulos and Sam Kellerhals, the two students at the lead of the project, got an initial 4,000 GBP funding through a crowdfunding campaign. The team is now hoping to gain additional funding to be able to support more refugees in Greece, and to be able to install their solar hubs also at other key locations, such as ports, detention and accommodation centres.
Helping refugees in Greece stay connected is only the beginning for project Elpis, and part of a bigger vision: to help reduce the number of people globally, some 1.2 billion of them, who cannot access electricity, and the 70 million children who currently lack access to education. Want to help Project Elpis in this journey? You can click here to donate.
And here's a video from the team at the Ritsona Refugee Camp in Athens: