Last year Ask Phill funded the scholarship of a student from the Restart Network - a Rotterdam based initiative that provides coding and tech education for refugees. Sadek Al Shaar joined our team in February for a 6 month programme, with a primary focus on full stack development training, but when we spoke to him recently about his experiences here he did not mention the coding knowledge as the most valuable thing he gained.
Instead it was working as part of a team, alongside friends rather than colleagues, that stuck in his mind as the most important and most enjoyable aspects of his scholarship, and we should take a moment to really consider this answer because it is incredibly revealing about what it means to provide help to the people that need it.
We think there are a lot of businesses today that, if asked, would say they wish they could do more to help those in need but do not have the resources to make a difference. Smaller businesses especially, who cannot afford to take on any more staff, or do not have the time or the right personnel to offer effective training, might believe that as much as they would like to help refugees like Sadek they are not in a position to do so. However this belief is based upon a fixed idea of what it means to help someone in need - i.e. to help is to completely solve the situation by offering either a full-time working position or full professional training, and if these things cannot be provided then there is nothing else that can be done. However in Sadek’s answer about what he found to be most valuable, he did not talk about the position he held or the training he received but rather the feelings that he had and what it meant to him to be part of a team.
Ask Phill does not have the resources to take on a refugee with a minimal amount of experience in coding and train them to the standards of a professional - the dedication of both staff and time that this requires is something far beyond our capabilities at present, and after 6 months with us Sadek was taken on by a much larger corporation who could provide everything he required. However, simply because we could not offer Sadek a full time position or train him to the standard at which he would be able to earn a job as a developer, did not mean we could not help at all.
We were able to give Sadek a sense of belonging. Without having experienced it first-hand it is of course impossible to imagine what it is like to flee one’s homeland, leaving behind everything and everyone. We do not know how it feels to arrive in a foreign land with absolutely nothing and attempt to build a new life for ourselves, but we can imagine that even the smallest gestures of acceptance and belonging would be a monumentally positive force. And these gestures can be made by a great number of people and businesses.
We are not suggesting that every business set about funding scholarships, we appreciate that for many this is not possible. But there needs to be a change in understanding over what constitutes help for refugees that have made their way to Europe. It does not need to be the offer of full employment but instead, as an example, could be offering to join the team one day a week, a fortnight or even just one day a month. This opportunity, however small it might seem, could provide a great number of things - a chance to experience the culture of the host nation, a sense of purpose and belonging, the feeling of everything gradually becoming a little less foreign, the experience of working in a team that Sadek spoke so fondly of, and the powerful message that all are welcome here.
Of course it goes without saying that Sadek was an invaluable addition to our team and his resilience, positivity and determination were sources of inspiration to everyone at Ask Phill. Lunch periods were spent exchanging stories, ideas and beliefs, creating an environment in which everybody was learning and developing their understanding of the world. Through his stories, Sadek gave us a greater insight into the conflict in his homeland of Syria and gave us a fresh perspective on the scale of the refugee crisis. We would encourage everyone and every business to think more about the ways in which they can offer help to the people that need it most - even the very smallest act can make a difference, and if everybody did something very small then together we would have something very big.