AcademiaTechnology

Students design app to help refugees in Brazil

The large flow of refugees arriving in Brazil caught the attention of five students from the Rio Grande do Sul Federal Institute (IFRS), inspiring them to create the Helping Hand app.

The app is available in Arabic, Portuguese, English, French and Spanish, and includes information on international agencies, legal aid, support centers, houses of worship, government agencies, consulates and embassies, Portuguese classes, job opportunities and hospitals near a refugee’s place of residence.

Aline Weber, Ingrid Smalti, Laís Roman, Luana Bianchi and Monique Invernizzi, all between the ages of 17 and 18 years-old, are students of the technical course in Internet Computing at the IFRS Bento Gonçalves campus. They developed the app to participate in the contest Technovation, organized by U.S.-based NGO Iridescent with the goal of promoting entrepreneurship among young women. The Helping Hand app was ranked among the contest’s top 10 entries in Latin America.

The idea of working with refugees stemmed from research conducted by Smalti on the current state of immigration in Brazil. “Through this study, we noticed that [refugees] face a lot of difficulties to establish themselves here, such as getting official papers, finding a place to live and seeking job opportunities,” Weber said.

According to Weber, the group got in touch with Haitian refugees  in Bento Gonçalves to get to know their needs better. São Paulo-based NGO Adus also helped by offering information on the situation of Syrian refugees. “In Bento Gonçalves we don’t have a large Arab presence,” she said. “We welcomed more Haitians.”

From left to right: Roman, Weber, Smalti, Bianchi and Invernizzi (Credit: Fernando Menegatti)
From left to right: Roman, Weber, Smalti, Bianchi and Invernizzi (Credit: Fernando Menegatti)

Arabic and French were the first lnbguages to be included in the app “because of the number of Syrians that are coming here due to the civil war,” Weber said. Brazil has taken in almost 2,000 Syrian refugees since 2013, most of whom have settled in São Paulo.

The Arabic app version was written by a Palestinian, a friend of one of the students. “We sent the texts in English and he translated them”, Weber said. In all, the app took three months to be developed. All of the programming was done by the students, who also wrote the texts in the other four languages. They also launched a website to promote the app.

The Android version of Helping Hand has been available for free download on the Play Store since May 1. Now, the students are seeking financial support to make the app available to iPhone users through Apple’s App Store. “It costs $99 per year to put the app in the store”, Weber said.

The group is not taking PayPal donations at this time, but contributions can be wired to account 24.144-x at Banco do Brasil branch 2969-6. Interested parties can also contact the students via their website.

Donations will also help fund project development, and any surplus will be passed on to refugee aid organization. The students are also seeking partnerships to promote the app at events.

Adapted from an ANBA report

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