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Digilit Bootcamp: Empowering Refugees to Think Critically, Work Digitally, and Express Creatively

Yesterday, Monday July 10, was the launch of my startup, ioi strategic design’s inaugural project, a 20-day bootcamp held at the Kayany Foundation’s Malala II School in Saadnayel, Bekaa, Lebanon for teenage refugee girls with a three-fold focus on critical thinking, digital skills, and mental health. The design of this project stems from my work on developing systemic strategies for effective refugee education that are holistic, skills-based, tech-focused, student-centered, and future-oriented, all of which are exemplified in the bootcamp itself.

The goal with this bootcamp is to simultaneously:

- Train refugees on how to think critically using design thinking, by working on group projects to solve problems that they face in their local community;

- Teach them different digital skills with an intensive training to equip them with the tech know-how that is needed to be able to participate in professional settings;

- Provide art therapy sessions as a creative, non-clinical form of psychosocial support, given the importance of mental health in any program aiming at the well-being of refugees.

This holistic approach ensures that the design thinking, project-based framework targets 21st-century soft skills like critical thinking, empathy, teamwork, collaboration, and presentation while the digital training provides the necessary technical skills needed to participate in most jobs of today that they will start applying as a set of tools through the development of their project. Finally, mental health is addressed in a fun and creative way using art therapy to provide the medium for young refugees to express themselves. This form of psychosocial support helps them deal with difficult and touching issues in an environment that does not make them feel like there is something wrong with them but that, on the contrary, helps them realize that they have a lot to give.

My main partner in this project is Edutek, a STEM training startup in the Bekaa Lebanon with the vision to stimulate creative young minds using technology, who are delivering the digital skills training. Mariam Haydar, the founder of Edutek, and myself have been in close discussion for the past year, exchanging ideas based on our compatible objectives: hers to create innovative digital training for youth and mine to provide effective and progressive education for refugees. In order to provide psychosocial support, I am also partnering with Dr. Anita Toutikian, the founder of Beirut Art Therapy, who will be using her skills as both a clinical psychologist and an artist to help refugees express themselves and heal emotionally through art. These partnerships reflect my firm belief in the power of connecting and working with local startups to co-create innovative approaches while providing exposure for them to showcase their work.

We are all excited to be at the start of what is surely becoming an amazing learning experience - both for us and the young women of Malala.


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