Refugees Need a Future, Not Just ‘Training’

“Today you start working. This is not only a training. It’s an opportunity for you to sign on with companies around the world who believe that your work is valuable and who have invited you to come and work on their platforms.

“How many of you believe that?”

Jessica Courtney stood in front of a room filled with expectant faces. It was the first day of class at our third and newest WorkWell campus, in a part of Iraq that hosts the largest refugee camp in the country.

Maybe two or three hands went up.

“I think it’s because they’ve had so many broken promises in the last few years,” Jessica reflected afterward.

New students listen with expectation. Photo by Erin Wilson/Preemptive Love Coalition.

WorkWell is the tech space you rallied behind, where displaced and vulnerable Syrians and Iraqis are becoming entrepreneurs, coders, and freelancers.

WorkWell is where they can access the digital marketplace—and reclaim their future.

Sometimes, though, it takes a little time for new students to see the potential in themselves. Jessica was able to meet their skepticism with confidence.

“I just smiled and said, ‘Well, let me tell you how this works.’ And I explained it to them. We are [already] in the process of getting them signed up on these platforms so they can start working. They are really, really excited about these opportunities and about learning things that are going to help them work outside of the economy here in Iraq.”

The first day of class, students sign up for microwork platforms. Photo by Erin Wilson/Preemptive Love Coalition.

The opening of this new WorkWell campus was not without complications. If you have been following the progress of WorkWell, you might remember that we were working with an existing institute, in the hopes of hosting the program in their facilities.

When those plans fell through we turned to you for help, asking you fund a space that would be wholly ours, that would belong fully to our students‚—and most importantly, that would welcome refugees and local neighborhood students alike.

The training students receive is not the focus of WorkWell. It’s not the point. Our students are the focus. Helping them find paid work is the point.

Time was tight, but so many of you responded with incredible love, jumping in with us to create a beautiful space for our friends.

“We’ve spent a couple weeks buying computers and desks, and pulling the space together,” Jessica shared.

As a result of your generosity partnered with the hard work of local staff, the opening of our newest WorkWell site was a huge success.

Our instructors are as excited as our students. Photo by Erin Wilson/Preemptive Love Coalition.

“It was an incredible day,” Jess said afterward. “So much fun to talk with these new students—these young adults—about what it means to be in Iraq today, and the effects of war in Syria, war in Iraq, what their life was like before, and what their hope is for the future.

“We had really interesting conversations about what kind of trainings they’ve been part of, what kind of work opportunities they’ve had.”

And of course, we talked about how this opportunity is different.

“We are working really hard with other organizations and businesses to help bring jobs to these students. I know that it’s not hopeless to have work here within Iraq, because this is something that we focus on as Preemptive Love.”

Staff develop plans for opening day. Photo by Erin Wilson/Preemptive Love Coalition.

The training students receive is not the focus of WorkWell. It’s not the point. Our students are the focus. Helping them find paid work is the point.

“We believe that the people in and of themselves have everything that they need to be successful. And if we can just help unlock that dream through conversation and come alongside and help to build up whatever it is they need for their business—to purchase those raw goods that they need to start their business—that they have everything they need to make those businesses a success.

“We’ve seen it. We’ve seen it for years now, the way that men and women alike are able to start these businesses and continue them on. And in the last six months, as we’ve expanded into an online space, we’ve been able to see how our students can take these skills to bring in income for their families from online freelancing sites as well as using their skills locally.”

A new student ready to learn. Photo by Erin Wilson/Preemptive Love Coalition.

Give refugees more than just training.

Give them a path to their future.