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Digital inclusion for refugees: Technology for Good @ Roraima

The Technology for Good @ Roraima project was first conceived in 2017 after a request from the Brazilian government for Ericsson to implement a technological solution that could enhance their response to the Venezuelan migration situation for the benefit of both the migrants and the local population in the state of Roraima.

The background to the project is that many Venezuelans have fled their country in recent years and come to the Brazilian state of Roraima via Pacaraima, a municipality located in the northwestern part of the state. A small town of approximately 12,000 people with limited connectivity, Pacaraima was not prepared to receive so many people. The migrants’ main destination has been Roraima’s capital city of Boa Vista. Once there, they have access to a range of public services – including the ability to request asylum and apply for a work permit – at a building at the Federal University of Roraima (UFRR), under the coordination of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).

Partnership with Vivo (Telefonica)

In response to the Brazilian government’s request, Ericsson partnered with Vivo (Telefonica) to deliver a very ambitious project that was divided into three parts:

  • Bring 3G/4G connectivity to Pacaraima
  • Enhance 4G coverage near the UFRR building in Boa Vista
  • Build a digital lab in Boa Vista to provide digital inclusion for migrants.

There were many technical challenges to overcome, particularly with respect to the 220km that separate Boa Vista and Pacaraima, with very few towers to connect them. In light of this, the project has been completed in phases. We decided to officially launch the project as a whole when the last part – the lab – was completed, in early September. I travelled to Roraima for the week of the official launch, and had the opportunity to talk to people who had been using Vivo’s enhanced connectivity for some time, as well as people who had just started taking lessons in the digital lab that very week.

Pacaraima

When you arrive at Pacaraima the tension is palpable. You can see many Venezuelans on the street, either waiting to go back to their home country or to continue on to Boa Vista. Although many of them do not own a mobile phone, the ones who do appreciate the new 4G network, which enables them to communicate with their families and access information necessary to their stay in Brazil.

The migrants are not the only ones benefitting from the improved connectivity. I also spoke to several local people and most of them told me they had purchased a Vivo SIM card since the arrival of Vivo’s 4G, due to the fact that it is the operator that works best in town.

Boa Vista

I heard similar positive comments in the waiting area of the UFRR building in Boa Vista, where I asked several Venezuelan migrants how they kept in contact with their families. Despite the financial difficulties – it is not easy to find work in Boa Vista – some of them told me they had managed to make 4G video calls to their relatives in Venezuela.

Digital lab

Our digital lab is located in the UFRR building. It consists of two rooms that provide digital inclusion with Portuguese lessons for both adults and children, which are offered in partnership with the university. After it has been up and running for one year, the digital lab will have directly impacted 480 people.

When I met with some of the students who are taking lessons, they told me the lab is already having a real impact on their lives. Some of them had never seen a computer before and never thought they would have the chance to learn how to use one.

While the Technology for Good @ Roraima project was challenging to implement, it’s clear that it is already having a positive impact on society. Over the coming months and years, I’m confident that it will continue to thrive, and become yet another great example of how technology can (and should be) used for good!

Learn more about Ericsson’s Technology for Good initiatives around the world.

Written by Thaís Villalobos

Thaís Villalobos is based in São Paulo, Brazil, where she is an intern with the Government and Industry Relations team. She joined Ericsson in 2017 and recently earned a degree in International Relations. Thaís has volunteered on many projects that benefit asylum seekers and refugees and is a believer that technology is key to positive changes in society.

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