British Columbia

Syrian refugees get Peace Geek app to track services in camps

A Vancouver humanitarian tech organization is making a difference in Jordan’s refugee camps with an app that helps refugees find shelter, water, and trauma services.

Vancouver-based organization, Peace Geeks, developed an app that lets refugees find shelter and water in camps

Refugees collect supplies at the Hadarat border crossing between Jordan and Syria. Refugees and agencies can now keep track of service points like this using a new app developed by the Vancouver organization, Peace Geeks. (Renee Black)

A Vancouver-based humanitarian technology organization is doing its part in the refugee relief effort in Jordan with a smartphone app that helps people find shelter, water, and trauma services in refugee camps.

The majority of 25,000 Syrian refugees Canada is accepting will come from refugee camps in Jordan, as well as Lebanon and Turkey.

Basic services can be difficult to locate inside vast refugee camps and that information can change day to day, says Renee Black, executive director of Peace Geeks.

"They're located in the hundreds of places around the country and that information can change on a weekly basis depending on the need, and also depending on the capacities of the organizations."

There are approximately 60 service providers in Jordan, according to Black.

Services Advisor app

Basic services can be difficult to locate inside vast refugee camps and that information can change day to day, says Renee Black, executive director of Peace Geeks, the organization that developed the app shown here. (Charlie Cho / CBC)

The app, called Services Advisor, can be a godsend for refugees, but it is also useful for the UNHCR and the Red Cross. They, and other coordination agencies can use the app to keep tabs on the conditions in the camps, said Black.

Service providers are responsible for updating their location and other details on the app.

Black says Peace Geeks is working on a new rating feature for the app that will allow refugees to leave reviews on service providers.

Internet is readily available in Jordan's public spaces and many refugees have smartphones already, says Black, who spent time in the country's refugee camps in April.

A different kind of humanitarian aid

Black says this project started as a request from the UN High Commission for Refugees in the spring of 2014. But this isn't the first project Peace Geeks, now four years old, has worked on. It is part of the digital humanitarian network, which is a tech support system for agencies responding to emergencies around the world.

She recalls the March 2015 cyclone in Vanuatu and how her organization used social media feeds and photos to map the damage.

Peace Geeks and its 750 volunteers has helped agencies map out potential locations when setting up refugee camps.

Random Hacks of Kindness

Peace Geek's team works on Services Advisor at the Random Hacks of Kindness for Peace hackerthon April 2014 (Renee Black)

The Peace Geeks and other members of Vancouver's technology community are gathering this weekend for a hackathon, called Random Hacks of Kindness. It's part of a global phenomenon where developers and nonprofit organizations meet to work on projects that aim to solve problems in the developing world.  

Peace Geeks held Vancouver's first Random Hacks of Kindness in Vancouver four years ago.

"We here in Vancouver are extremely privileged to live where we are. We've got a growing tech sector that we can tap into," said Black. "And I think it's our responsibility to help, especially given how safe and secure we are."

To listen to the full audio, click the link labelled: PeaceGeeks make app to help refugees.


  • An earlier version of this story stated the Peace Geeks used social media feeds and photos to map the damage of the Nepal earthquakes in spring 2015. The International Organization for Migration asked the Peace Geeks to map the area, but due to time constraints that request was cancelled.
    Nov 30, 2015 7:15 AM PT


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