By Chris Nieckel

I don’t often spend time on ladders in my normal job as a Site Reliability Engineer for Google Maps. That changed during my two weeks as a NetHope volunteer, and so has my understanding of how important connectivity is for refugees. 

As I read the news about refugees each day from my home in Zurich, I wondered what I could do to help. Before long, I found myself in the camps of Northern Greece with the NetHope team. The team is very collaborative and friendly. Within hours they had shown me not only how to use my programming knowledge to configure access points, but also handy techniques from crimping Ethernet cables to using hose clamps. 

Every time we arrived at a new camp with a ladder, tools and antennas, both men and women would approach to ask us whether they would get Wi-Fi soon. It felt good to see their happy eyes when we said “yes.” The kids at the camps were lively and playful. In Nea Kavala I walked around the camp to test signal strength, and soon I was surrounded by 20 kids trying to hold my hand and asking me to take a photo. These kids didn't care for the internet yet but were still happy to have some distractions.

Chris Nieckel, Google volunteer

Back in Zurich, my wife and I have three boys of our own. They love playing computer games with me, and try to get them outdoors for hiking and camping as much as I can. I think about my family often when I’m in the camps, especially when I see children and pregnant women. There are so many people in need here, but even the small things we do can improve their lives. 

This post is part of an ongoing series of stories from NetHope's work in Greece to provide connectivity to refugees.

Filed Under: Emergency Response, Syria Refugee Crisis