Last June I spent three weeks travelling around Greece as part of the student-led initiative Project Elpis. The goal of the project is to provide free electricity to refugee camps in Greece and beyond through solar powered mobile phone charging stations. The initiative was started last November by two undergraduate Environmental Sciences students at the University of Edinburgh. I was able to join the team at the project’s conceptual stage and helped turn the idea into action by raising over 4000 pounds through crowdfunding and creating an awareness for the issue on various social media networks. The University of Edinburgh also played a significant part in the success of this initiative by providing us with enough funding to cover our travelling expenses as well as sending a press team over to Greece to document our progress and help publicise what we have been doing. All these channels of support were the reason for the success of our project so far through which we have been able to pilot six solar charging stations across refugee camps such as Kara Tepe in Lesvos and Ritsona in Athens, powering up to 120 mobile phones per unit per day.
However, there were also many obstacles we had to face along the way. Being students put us in position in which we still had to gain more experience in our communication skills to convey our idea properly and earn enough trust to receive funding. In the beginning stages, our idea was surrounded by some level of uncertainty and we were unsure about how big of a positive contribution we were actually making to the refugee crisis. However, as we delved deeper into the topic, our team was overwhelmed by the dire need for our solution. For example, while 86% of Syrians arriving in Europe have access to a smartphone, only 46% receive enough assistance with electricity along their journey. Statistics like these made us believe in our project even more and were critical to our success so far.
Travelling through Greece from one refugee camp to another and presenting our idea to camp managers and NGOs, especially when having to do this on my own, was an unforgettable experience. Furthermore, I also got to know the multitude of people involved in the refugee crisis, from kind – hearted volunteers to migrants of various backgrounds. By being involved in this project and travelling abroad I was able to gain many new skills such as raising awareness and funding for a good cause as well as effectively implementing renewable technology in an emergency situation. The Principal’s Go Abroad Fund allowed me to travel to Greece and aid Project Elpis in its efforts, which gave me the opportunity to gain many new experiences that have been critical to my personal development.