Coding for Social Good: Refugee Finder


I am creating a Meteor based application that will help refugees and migrants reconnect with friends and family that they have been separated from, as well as find border crossings and help centers. The application is open source, one day old and free for all to contribute to. Read on for a quick back story, links to demo site & code @ the end.

The Story

As a current events junkie, I have been following the plight of the refugees fleeing persecution in their home countries located in Africa and the middle and far east for quite a while. When the Arab Spring began, I launched a website and Twitter account to enlighten the English speaking world about the protests happening all across the region.

I primarily covered Egypt and Libya, but had a section for each country run by dictators facing the revolt of their populace. There were around 13! Some of them were quashed more more quickly and violently than the ones most people are familiar with.

For instance, one moment I’m watching the sun set on thousands and thousands of people camped out and protesting in the Pearl Roundabout in Bahrain’s capital. As the sun rose on the next day there were no people left, just a lot of empty pavement charred black, the remnants of hopes crushed and the Pearl Monument being bulldozed.

When Gaddafi was taken out of the picture, I predicted that Europe would see a massive influx of African immigrants by sea. I did not anticipate that the Syrian revolt would turn into such a long, drawn out mess. Nor did I foresee the consequences it would have for refugees from the Middle East and beyond.

After the migration momentum really picked up, I thought the global leaders would do something (anything?) to help alleviate some of these problems.

Years before the tragic story of Alan Kurdi touched the world, I had been sickened by the plight and images of people dying every day in the Mediterranean Sea and being ruthlessly murdered in Egypt, Libya & Syria. Sickened to the point that I took most of a year off from watching the news at all. Many of the people that I had met through had vanished without a trace… or worse.

In the years since Gaddafi died, the aforementioned ‘leaders’ really haven’t done much, aside from spending money flying around to talk about it with people who aren’t even there. And dropping crates of weapons, food and bombs randomly around Syria.

In 2014, I thought maybe some kind of app could help these people. It was sort of a passing thought though, and I figured someone was probably already doing it. About September of 2015, I thought about it again. Again, I just assumed someone already had one (or a dozen) and I wasn’t really coding at the time.

Well, about a week ago my dear friend and fellow programmer Dr. Hamza Mousa suggested that we should make one. This time, a really solid idea clicked. My coding brain kicked in, and I searched the Android apps for ‘refugee’. Nothing.

I imagined myself in their plight, on a long and desperate journey through unknown lands and much chaos. What would be important to me? And what problems would weigh most heavily on my daily thoughts (aside from the obvious desire to return to a peaceful homeland, of course)?

Separation from the people that I know and love. Concern about their well being. Where I would sleep that night and when would I find food again.

The idea came out of nowhere, but appeared in my mind nearly complete. I could provide a set of tools to help people reconnect with their loved ones, or find help should they become lost.

Is there anything more an app could do to help these people, aside from sprouting fresh vegetables?

Sure, it could guide them to refugee help centers and border crossings? With comments, open/close status & ratings? Yes!

With that, Refugee Finder was born.

Hamza and I will be using the ultimate in cutting edge app and web technology, Meteor. Meteor is a Javascript framework for real-time applications that I have been trying to forge into a complete solution for web sites for nearly a year.

This is just the beginning of our open source #CodingForSocialGood project and I intend to document the process in a series of Meteor articles (probably not quite tutorials) and possibly a few stories from those we connect with along the way. Feel free to follow along or contribute code and design, this app will be open source and non-monetized for as long as I maintain it.

*Note: This post was intended for, but #MeteorPress just isn’t ready yet. :smirk:

@iDoMeteor (those interested participating, contact me here)
@Refugee_Finder (just born) (coming soon) (alpha 1) (code in finder/) (my site) (Dr. Hamza’s site)

The next article is ‘Coding for Social Good: Building Refugee Finder Part 1’.


You should really write down a TL;DR to get a quick idea of what it’s about. The history lesson is important but really it takes a while to read all that ;).