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Stories of Change: How Project Elpís is giving hope to refugees

Author: Defne Avcioglu
Published Date: 20 July 2016

At SIX we think it is important to tell stories where social innovation has impacted people’s lives for the better. Our Stories of Change series tells you the stories that inspire us from around the world. 

Isolated from his family, 14-year-old Afghan refugee Asil faces an uncertain journey alone. Being equally as far away from his family in Afghanistan as he is from his relatives in Holland and Germany, his mobile phone has become his lifeline. Being able to continue using it ensures the communication with his family, reassuring them of his safety and giving them invaluable comfort in being able to know that he is safe. Having this powerful device at his hands means that he is never too far from his family, even as the physical distance between them grows. 

The number of refugee arrivals in Greece reached almost a million in 2015. Due to the close proximity to Turkey, the Greek islands have seen a surge in refugees attempting the dangerous crossing of the Aegean sea. As a result, there is an influx of people seeking asylum on their shores before continuing their journey across Europe. 

Project Elpís, founded by students from the University of Edinburgh, provides emergency electricity to refugees in Samos, Greece through solar powered mobile charging devices. Their inspiration to make a difference was drawn from a visit to the island of Samos by the founder, Alexandros Angelopoulos, who witnessed first-hand the desperation of the situation on the island and the hundreds of impoverished people arriving by boat from Turkey each day. By utilising the natural resource that exists in the greatest abundance in Greece, the sun, the team is hoping to transform the experiences of the 57,042 refugees currently stranded in Greece.

 For these refugees, who have had to leave their entire lives behind, a phone is all they may have left, and the prospect of being without a functioning mobile device can be devastating. The lack of electricity in camps has led to many seeking out dangerous alternatives, including hacking into light poles, in the process exposing themselves to fatal levels of current. Acts like these are understandable, as in many cases, a mobile phone can offer their only source of hope for the journey ahead, as well as the only way they can maintain contact with the outside world while the painfully slow asylum process takes place for months.

In this way, Elpís, meaning ‘hope’ in Greek, aims to return some independence, dignity and self-sufficiency to the refugees. They have already implemented two mobile charging units at the Kara Tepe camp in Lesbos with the help of Greek solar technology company Entec. These are powered solely by renewable solar energy, making them carbon-neutral; they are also able to generate electricity for 12 plugs an hour, providing power to up to 240 people a day. The mobile nature of the units guarantees efficient access to all refugee communities. Another four have been built, which will be distributed in refugee camps in Samos and Athens this month to target key areas such as the port, detention centres and other accommodation facilities.

As a result, refugees are now able to communicate more freely with family and friends, as well as access vital information needed to plan their journey ahead across Europe. This has already provided a welcome relief for the overburdened local resources, as refugees will no longer be crowding central areas as much to gain access to electricity plugs. The close work that has been done with the local government and NGOs has ensured that the interests of the local population have been included in decision making. This can have a positive impact on the general attitude towards the refugees on the island, resulting in the easing of tensions between the refugee community and the local population, thus ensuring a healthier coexistence between the two communities.

Alongside furthering their solar-powered charging units, the project also aims to expand their Internet and mobile services. However, the ambitions of this project are not limited to a single island, and they hope to expand to different locations in Greece, Europe and the Middle East to provide electricity for the 1.2 billion people around the world who still don’t have access to it.

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