During the summer, many teachers spend their time relaxing or vacationing, but Sanjeetha Peters, senior lecturer of Math and Computer Science at the Louisiana School for Math, Science, and the Arts’s (LSMSA), travelled for a much different reason this past summer: to provide a technology camp for displaced refugees in Sweden.
For two weeks in July, Peters, alongside her son David, a sophomore at LSMSA, and Benjamin Walker, a senior computer science student, prepared and hosted a technology program for displaced refugees in Malmö, Sweden. Participants included citizens from the countries of Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Morocco, and Sudan.
According to Peters, the idea for the camp came in 2016, when she travelled to Denmark to assist with a similar summer camp. Peters stopped in Malmö for a day trip, and it was during this time that the refugee crisis in Sweden was at its peak.
“In 2016, Sweden was the hub for taking in refugees,” recalled Peters. “Many of them were separated from their families, and many of them were seeking political or religious asylum.
“I saw them dragging their suitcases, not knowing where they were going; just walking, sleeping in parks on benches. These were all highly educated people—lawyers and engineers—who were completely displaced. I felt totally helpless to the situation.”
She felt a need to offer a solution, but having no ties to the community, she was unsure how to go about implementing one. The following year, she found out that a close friend, Theresa, moved to the city of Malmö for work.
Her friend, who was also interested in helping out the city’s displaced population, assisted in forming the necessary partnerships to make the camp work.
“My friend Theresa was associated with a 200-year-old church in Malmö that had a very strong connection with the refugee community,” said Peters. “They offered food and helped with job placement, so we thought it would be the perfect location for the camp.”
Peters, her son David, and Walker travelled over with little more than an idea of how the camp would work.
“We went into this cold-turkey, without knowing the kinds of resources we had,” said Peters. “The generosity of the city, as well as some of the members of the refugee community, made the camp work like a well-oiled machine.”
The church and church-goers loaned their laptops for the camp. A small of refugees, who did not want to participate in the camp but wanted to offer assistance, made sure church doors were open at the start of camps and provided fresh-cooked meals for campers.
Over the course of the program, Peters and Walker led simultaneous computer-application workshops with camp participants, while Peters’ son provided troubleshooting and hands-on assistance to campers. The camp offered beginner, intermediate, and advanced computer concepts for camp participants, including everything from setting up a Google Calendar and Gmail account to web design and mobile app development. The workshops were split by age-groups and learning levels, with participants ranging from 13- to 75-years of age.
Peters hosted the camp as a means of providing the participants useful and practical skills for job placement.
“One of the ways Sweden assists refugees is that they give the displaced citizens two years,” started Peters. “You learn the language, you get a skill, and you get a job in those two years. The purpose of the camp was to give them that skill, like, ‘Hey, here are the tools. I can help you get started, and you will be able to continue after I leave.’”
Next year, Peters intends to host another Technology Camp in the city of Berlin.
The Math and Computer Science Department at LSMSA is full of highly accredited lecturers and instructors. For a list of faculty and course offerings, visit http://www.LSMSA.edu/math.