Atallah hadn't been able to talk to his daughter for 2 years. Then NetHope came along.

For Syrian refugees in Greece, the internet isn't a pastime. It's a lifeline.

For Atallah Taba, it all happened in an instant. One moment he had a wife and a home in Jobar, Syria. The next, an air strike took both of those away.

Like millions of other Syrians in the war-ravaged country, Atallah fled. He headed north toward Turkey and eventually reached Greece, settling in a refugee camp in Cherso, Thessaloniki. His journey had taken two years. During that time, he told NetHope, he hadn't been able to talk to his six children, all living abroad in Lebanon and Germany.


Atallah Taba in his temporary home at a refugee camp in Cherso, Greece. Image by Madeline Kane, used with permission.

Like 70% of all Syrian refugees, Atallah didn't have a mobile phone or a way to get online.

It's impossible to overstate how important it is for refugees to have safe, reliable ways to access the web. The internet helps them connect with loved ones, get important news updates, and find aid agencies.

For refugees living in Greece, internet access is even more important: The only way they can start the process of applying for asylum is to make an appointment on Skype — and the office is only available to make appointments for brief windows of time on certain days. Without a secure internet connection, refugees can't even begin to plan for a future beyond a refugee camp.

That's where organizations like NetHope come in.

Engineers with NetHope at a refugee camp in Greece. Image by Madeline Kane, used with permission.

NetHope is an organization full of broad thinkers with big hearts, trying to change the world through the power of technology. It works with humanitarian agencies and tech companies to help get people online when they need it most.

NetHope's first big project to bring refugees online was in 2012 at Kenya's Dadaab refugee camp. Together with tech companies and aid agencies, it launched DadaabNet, a large-scale high-speed broadband network connecting the thousands of people living and working in the country's largest refugee camp with the rest of the world.

The tent city of Dadaab, Kenya. Image by Oxfam East Africa, used with permission.

For the past several months, NetHope and its partners have worked at refugee camps across Greece, helping build wireless networks.

The project is far from complete, but it's already helping hundreds of thousands of people in need.

According to Frank Schott, NetHope's Managing Director of Programs, "over 90,000 devices log on to one of the sites. With one device per 3-4 refugees we estimate that the reach is close to 300,000 refugees that have benefitted in Greece."

NetHope workers troubleshoot their network. Image by Madeline Kane, used with permission.

When NetHope set up the connection in his camp, Atallah was the first person to thank them. After two years of silence, he has a phone with internet and can finally call his children and tell them he's safe. Which he does. Every day.

Life in a refugee camp is never meant to be permanent. For Atallah and others in Cherso, stable internet access allows them to feel a little more connected to home while they wait for what happens next.

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Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

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Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

Frozen II features Indigenous culture much more directly, and even addressed the issue of Indigenous erasure. Filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, along with producer Peter Del Vecho, consulted with experts on how to do that respectfully—the experts, of course, being the Sámi people themselves.

Sámi leaders met with Disney producer Peter Del Vecho in September 2019.Sámediggi Sametinget/Flickr

The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

RELATED: This aboriginal Australian used kindness and tea to trump the racism he overheard.

Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

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