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Come_IN@Palestine: Adapting a German Computer Club Concept to a Palestinian Refugee Camp


Abstract and Figures

Come_IN computer clubs are a well-established approach to foster learning, social networks and integration in German neighborhoods with a high percentage of migrant population. We have transferred this concept to a different part of the world: a Palestinian refugee camp. Similar to the German neighborhoods we deal with, refugee camps are also the result of migration moves; however, in this case - an enforced one. This paper describes the come_IN approach and investigates its adaptation to a Palestinian refugee camp. Obviously it exhibits fundamental cultural, social, and political dissimilarities from the German setting. Refugees living in camps have to deal with a number of local living and subsistence challenges, as well as having to tackle mounting critical issues related to their refugee status. Here we describe the first three years of activities and experiences.
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Come_IN@Palestine: Adapting a German Computer Club
Concept to a Palestinian Refugee Camp
Konstantin Aal
, George Yerousis
, Kai Schubert
, Dominik Hornung
Oliver Stickel
, Volker Wulf
University of Siegen,
57068 Siegen, Germany
[konstantin.aal, kai.schubert,
dominik.hornung, oliver.stickel,
Birzeit University
PO Box 14, Birzeit
West Bank, Palestine
Come_IN computer clubs are a well-established approach
to foster learning, social networks and integration in
German neighborhoods with a high percentage of migrant
population. We have transferred this concept to a different
part of the world: a Palestinian refugee camp. Similar to the
German neighborhoods we deal with, refugee camps are
also the result of migration moves; however, in this case -
an enforced one. This paper describes the come_IN
approach and investigates its adaptation to a Palestinian
refugee camp. Obviously it exhibits fundamental cultural,
social, and political dissimilarities from the German setting.
Refugees living in camps have to deal with a number of
local living and subsistence challenges, as well as having to
tackle mounting critical issues related to their refugee
status. Here we describe the first three years of activities
and experiences.
Author Keywords
Computer Club; children; integration; communities;
international collaboration.
ACM Classification Keywords
H.5.m. Information interfaces and presentation (e.g., HCI):
The intercultural computer clubs, called come_IN, offer a
place to share practices among children and adults of
diverse ethnical backgrounds. Once a week the participants
gather voluntarily in the computer club to work on joint
projects, study, play, or realize individual ideas supported
by the use of information and communication technology
(ICT). The participants create personal meaningful artifacts
together in order to express themselves. The establishment
of these practices is apt to develop an effect both on an
individual as well as at community level. Engaging in
computer supported project work, the club participants can
extend their social networks and learn from other
participants – often across cultural boundaries [19,21]
Like other western societies, Germany is facing migration
from countries with distinctly dissimilar socio-cultural
backgrounds. The lack of social as well as cultural
integration seems to lead to unequal opportunities and
lower levels of education. For instance, the German Turkish
community which has existed for over forty years in
Germany still finds itself confronted with these issues.
Since 2003 we have built a network of come_IN computer
clubs in Germany [17,19]. They are located in socially and
culturally diverse neighborhoods. Most of them are based in
elementary schools, being part of their afternoon activities.
Each weekly session brings children and adults of diverse
migration backgrounds together. The projects carried out in
these clubs are typically linked to issues relevant to the
particular neighborhood, e.g. the creation of animation
films using stories from the neighborhood [18].
In this paper, we investigate the establishment of a first
computer club in a Palestinian refugee camp. Through the
use and appropriation of ICT, these marginalized
Palestinian refugee communities may be supported to
positively engage in their own society and in the
Palestinian-Israeli conflict-to-peace transformation process.
Another major objective in transferring our approach is to
network Palestinians among themselves - especially women
and children - across different sites, even countries, at the
same time promoting their integration into the local
societies and finally enabling them to access the
information society.
The paper is structured as follows: a review of the literature
discusses the underlying concepts and the Palestinian
context. The next chapter describes Jalazone, a refugee
camp where we started our first computer club in Palestine.
It is followed by a description of our basic approach, the
research methods, and our empirical findings. The paper
ends with a discussion of the findings.
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The concept of the come_IN computer clubs follows the
tradition of computer clubhouses in the US which later
evolved into a global network, now with over 100 computer
clubhouses (two of which are in Palestine). The first of
these computer clubhouses was established for
underprivileged youngsters in Boston in the year 1993; the
principles of situated, collaborative learning and
constructionist thinking offered them opportunities to
express themselves with the use of ICT and new media [5].
The pedagogical concept behind the clubhouses is an
extension of the constructivist-learning paradigm.
Constructivism describes the learning process as
constructing individual cognitive structures. Papert
extended this idea; he stated that these cognitive structures
have to be put in practice by constructing artifacts. This is
now known as constructionism [13]. Hence, in the
computer club sessions the participants have the
opportunity to work on their own ideas, but also to work
together in a team, which “emerges” informally over time,
coalescing around a common interest [14]. Resnick [15]
mentioned that communities are flexible and dynamic,
“evolving to meet the need of the projects and interests of
the participants.” To support the young people, adult staff
and volunteer mentors offered intellectual, technical, and
very often emotional support [9].
One of the tools which the participants use to create virtual
artifacts such as video games, animations, images and
sound, is Scratch. It is an End User Development [8]
environment based on a building-block metaphor, in which
pieces of code are put together to create scripts and
manipulate the figures on the screen [9].
The come_IN approach developed this concept further,
applying it to issues of inter-generational learning and the
integration of migrant communities in Germany. The
computer club was erected at schools, which serve a central
point of exchange among the people of the city district. The
computer club provides opportunities for children in
elementary school, their parents and tutors to engage in
group-oriented project work [19]. Once a week, they gather
in one of the six clubs, work on joint projects or realize
their individual ideas on the computer with the support of
the tutors. They can also explore and practice their skills in
ICT and multimedia. Most of the projects last for several
months and can contain different multi-media artifacts.
During this time, the learning situations are more intensive
for the parents and their children based on the active
participation by dealing with the chosen topics of their
projects and by evaluating how to solve any emerging
problems. Several volunteers support the participants and
teach them how to use the different tools [19].
There are relatively few studies dealing with computer
supported learning and community building under the
specific conditions of Palestinian refugee camps. Khalili [7]
has investigated the ‘cyberculture’ of Palestinian refugee
camps in Lebanon and how the internet “distributes modes
of nationalist understanding, using images and leaflets,
across borders” (p.127). Wahbeh [20] analyzed a number of
cases that involve students and teachers in public, private
and United Nation Relief and Work Agency (UNRWA)
schools in the West Bank, where institutions like the Intel
Club performed training courses for young people. The
studied computer labs were not connected to the internet
due to budgetary reasons, so the pupils had to rely on the
clubs and internet cafés to use the computers and access the
internet for doing their homework. While the percentage of
internet users has grown strongly during the last decade
(57.7 % of the population in Palestine in mid-2012
according to [23]), the digital divide between the students in
a camp and those outside is still obvious. The term “digital
divide” was defined by Mehra [11] as “the troubling gap
between those who use computers and the internet and
those who do not.” To narrow this divide and to empower
students in a refugee camp, Sawhney [16] hosted
storytelling workshops over a period of three years. The
young people in refugee camps have stories to tell and
reflect a lot on “their identity, heritage, environment, and
life experience.” Storytelling can also be used to work
through intractable conflicts; this enables people with
traumatic social experiences to digest these experiences and
learn to live with the events. Working with a Palestinian-
Israeli group, Bar-On [12] demonstrated in a similar
manner that storytelling often helps to cope with painful
The potential benefits that computer clubs provide to the
community have not yet been academically investigated in
the Palestinian context. However, Wulf et al. [22] describe
how an early attempt of such an investigation led to a study
on political activists in a Palestinian village in the West
Bank. In the context of exploring the potentials of computer
clubhouses, the authors describe how the activists made use
of email and social media to articulate their protest against
the Israeli expropriation of their land and how they stay in
touch with an international network of supporters.
Jalazone is a Palestinian refugee camp in the West Bank,
situated approximately 7 km north of Ramallah and 3 km
east of Birzeit University. Ramallah has developed into a
bustling political and economic center on the West Bank.
The Palestinian political administration, called the
Palestinian National Authority (PNA), is located there.
Like most other refugee camps, Jalazone was established in
1949, built on plots of land leased by the UNRWA from the
Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Individuals living in a
neighboring village named Jifna owned the plots of lands
privately. The inhabitants of the camp were expelled or fled
from their homes in nowadays Israel, specifically the area
around Ramleh and Lydd, during the Arab-Israeli War in
1948. The actual number of inhabitants of the camp is
unclear. While there are various official statistics or
estimations, the camp services popular committee – an in-
camp elected committee – estimates the population of
Jalazone between 10,000 and 15,000. A high population
density as well as crowded and precarious living conditions
characterizes the camp. The unemployment rate is much
higher than in the neighboring urban region (40% in
Jalazone according to the camp administration).
The existence of the refugee camps more than 60 years after
their establishment is politically a highly sensitive issue,
since they symbolize the need and desire of the Palestinian
people to return to their land which was lost to Israel in
1948. The positioning of the refugee camps’ population
within the Palestinian society is a complex one. While their
continued existence is seen to be a political necessity
(“right to return”), the in-camp population is looked upon in
a demeaning manner and they are often regarded as second-
class citizens. They are generally considered to be poorly
dressed, behave aggressively, and use street language.
People expect negative interaction with them due to
perceived differences in morals, values, and attitudes. In
general, members of the Palestinian middle class would
typically prefer not to enter any of the refugee camps and
very rarely do so. There are also severe economic and
social obstacles to be overcome by refugee camp
inhabitants who want to move out. So there is little social
esteem and exchange with regard to the inhabitants of a
refugee camp.
The camp is run by an administrative council of 21
members who appoint a management board. M. is the head
of the camp’s services popular committee – he is a member
of the Fatah movement. A female Palestinian politician, H.,
an alumni of Birzeit University, represents the camp in the
Fatah movements. She was instrumental in establishing the
contact which led to the development of the computer club.
Upon the request of Birzeit University, the camp’s
administration set up an association specifically to run the
computer club.
As with all 59 recognized refugee camps in Jordan,
Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, the
United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) offers
rudimentary medical, educational, and solid waste
collection services to the population of Jalazone. Within the
framework of these services, UNRWA runs two schools,
one for boys and one for girls, which are located at the main
entrance to the camp. These schools have rather large class
sizes of 40 to 50 children and follow Palestinian national
curricula combined with a rather teaching-by-instructions
pattern [20]. The population of Jalazone receives additional
aid from USAID, the PNA, the Fatah movement, and a
variety of other donors.
The Jalazone’s camp services popular committee estimates
that about 60% of the in-camp families have access to the
internet at home. The actual usage is unclear since the
majority of the adults are often not adept at using
computers. There are also several Internet cafés in the
camp, which have opened in recent years. However these
places have a bad reputation among the parents since they
are rarely supervised properly by adults and it is suspected
that they are used for computer games, gambling, and
watching pornography.
The main methodological framing for our research comes
from Participatory Action Research (PAR) by Kemmis &
McTaggert [6,10]: Our work is attached to real world
problems as laid out in the previous sections and given the
lack of infrastructure as well as the relatively volatile and
difficult setting, mere immersion in the field is not enough.
We actually had and have to engage in action and
intervention (from founding the club through specific
projects and political justifications to camp-political issues,
explained in more detail below). This approach is similar to
that employed by other researchers in difficult settings, e.g.
Braa and Manya [3] who worked towards a decentralized,
bottom-up health ICT in Africa. The action research phases
in situ by researchers from our home university – usually a
few days up to a few weeks in the field several times a year
- are alternated with more reflective phases. The analysis of
our findings, notes and documentation were realized by a
qualitative content analysis, entailing the controlled
analysis of texts within their context of communication.
This was conducted not only among our research group but
also with colleagues not immersed in the field, as well as
internationally together with our local partner university.
We also take care to send multiple and alternating
researchers and students into the field, ensuring a broader
perspective and actively working against possible bias
stemming from a high degree of participation and action.
Hence data gathering as well as analysis is dispersed over a
large group of researchers, local as well as at home,
including both those who are and who are not immersed in
the field. This leads to a high degree of explication of tacit
understandings and thicker descriptions. The contrasting
cases of Germany / Palestine as club locations also reflect
on the principles of Grounded Theory.
Throughout our researchers’ fieldwork, qualitative research
methods were used to observe the field in as much detail as
possible. The authors conducted the research presented in
this paper over a period of 46 months, from May 2010 to
March 2014. While the local coordinator (and first author)
visited the computer club once a week and on a regular
basis, the other authors visited the computer clubs at least
every six months, seven visits by March 2014 with a total
stay of 16 weeks. During these visits, our researchers
attended, observed and took part in the weekly club
The visits were documented via field notes and photos.
Every evening, extensive documentation was written
pertaining to the respective day. Since the non-Palestinian
researchers do not speak Arabic, the local coordinator
translated for them. Moreover, the German researchers
were accompanied by a translator on three of the visits. It
was therefore possible for the researchers who do not speak
Arabic themselves to conduct workshops and interviews
with the volunteers, children and inhabitants of the refugee
camp in their native language. During a stay in August and
September 2012, 7 semi-structured interviews (each with a
duration between 30 minutes and 3 hours) were conducted
as well as more than ten informal interviews, almost all of
which were audio recorded. For her Master thesis, a native
speaker carried out 13 semi-structured interviews with
children from the refugee camps about the computer
clubhouses. Additionally, protocols and feedback sheets
from the weekly computer club sessions written by the
tutors and other materials were collected and were included
in the analysis.
For privacy and security reasons, we have substituted
names with abbreviations in this.
Building a computer club in this context is a challenge, not
only regarding the scientific methods employed: As seen
above, there are considerable political constraints. Finding
and building a trustworthy relationship to local partners
willing to implement the come_IN approach was another
big issue.
In May 2010 the first author went to the West Bank to
explore opportunities for research and academic
cooperation. He was specifically interested in exploring
whether computer clubhouses, which were conceptualized
for and implemented in German neighborhoods, could be
transferred to the context of the West Bank. In April 2011,
two authors went to Jalazone to meet the administration
staff from the Camp Services and Administration Council.
The administration staff had already realized a project with
Birzeit University in the past and was willing to cooperate
again with the University. They promised to look for a
location and a local NGO to act as cooperation partner. At
the end of 2011, the German Federal Foreign Office
approved a project proposal for setting up a first come_IN
computer club within a Palestinian refugee camp.
Establishing and successfully running a community-based
computer club in a refugee camp environment proved to be
a daunting task. Hence there was a need for the local project
manager from Birzeit University to visit existing computer
clubs in Germany. After a potential location for the
computer club had been selected, the local project manager
visited the come_IN team in Germany to learn more about
the project. In different workshops combined with visits to
the computer clubs, he came to understand the come_IN
approach better. In discussions with the come_IN team
about the concept, some necessary adaptions became
obvious. To fit in with the context of the refugee camps, the
technical infrastructure had to be adjusted, as had the
mentoring of the children (more on that in the Findings).
Following several months of preparation, the computer club
was opened in May 2012. The popular committee of the
camp as well as representatives of the PNA and Birzeit
University were present at the opening ceremony. The
technical infrastructure with 13 thin-clients and two host
computers was installed; the only problem was the non-
existent internet connection, which was supposed to be
available some days later. First, under the authors’
guidance, a workshop with all the volunteers took place in
the computer club to prepare the volunteers for working
with children and to understand the concept. One week
later, the first computer club session started with more than
20 children and five tutors. During the next four months the
participants met on Saturdays to work together on different
During the summer semester, Birzeit University organizes
an annual 3-week-long summer enrichment program for
school children. Arrangements were made with Jalazones
popular committee along with the children’s parents to hold
the weekly club sessions on the University campus – on a
daily basis – and as part of the summer camp. For a period
of three weeks, a bus would transport the 20 participating
children from Jalazone camp to the campus of Birzeit
University. Ameeneh, a university student volunteer,
accompanied the children on the 10-minute bus journey.
The summer camp focused on 2 major themes:
programming with Scratch and building robotic prototypes
utilizing Lego Mindstorm kits. In addition to experiencing
Birzeit’s college life, Jalazone children were able to meet
other children from middle schools around Ramallah who
were participating in the summer camp.
During Ramadan, the computer club took a time out. This
was a good opportunity to reflect together with the
participants, volunteers and other people involved. During a
workshop, the authors and student volunteers exchanged
and compared their experiences. In the course of additional
personal interviews, more intimate conversations were
initiated and these often disclosed problems. Some
participants were interviewed in order to gain another view
on the computer club sessions. A further goal of this visit
was to keep the club running which necessitated
preparations being made. With the help of the local
coordinator, the search was started both for new volunteers
as well as for further locations for additional computer
In 2013, we were able to open a second computer club in
the Al Am’ari camp – a Palestinian refugee camp located 2
km south of Ramallah in the central West Bank. This paper
will however focus on our experiences with the Jalazone
camp alone.
This chapter presents the findings and results related to
different dimensions and aspects of our work during the last
two years.
In Germany, the computer clubs are usually hosted in
elementary schools. The UNRWA administrates schools in
Palestinian refugee camps. However, setting up a new
project like a computer club means overcoming a lot of
bureaucratic barriers of centralized UN sub-organizations.
Another option was to choose a local NGO to cooperate
with as they can act more freely. Negotiations regarding the
conditions of the cooperation then ensued. With the help of
H., a female Fatah politician, we got in touch with the head
of Dima – Association of Creativity. This newly formed
organization was quickly registered as an NGO, just in time
to host and run the computer club. It is physically located
inside the building which is home to the camp services’
popular committee.
While the installation of the technical infrastructure and the
introduction of weekly activities of the computer club were
relatively quickly established, other issues appeared. The
building is also used for other activities, e.g. as a gym, and
was therefore very often crowded and busy, which often
disturbed club sessions.
Volunteering Students
The weekly sessions of the German computer clubs are
tutored by a schoolteacher and a university student.
Although some of the students already have experience in
working together with children, all of them receive practical
training during their first months. At Birzeit University in
Palestine, undergraduate students are mandated to complete
120 hours of community service during their studies as a
pre-requisite for graduation. This community service has to
be performed in a socially important environment such as in
a health or community center. After receiving approval
from the Student Affairs Office at Birzeit University, the
local coordinator announced via the University’s online
bulletin board - the availability of community service work
in the form of tutoring children at Jalazone refugee camp.
In the first round, 20 female students from diverse study
backgrounds registered to serve as volunteer computer club
tutors one month later; most of them were living in the
refugee camp. In the first round, not one single male student
was interested in working as a tutor. However, over time
the reputation of the project grew among the Birzeit
students. The number of students wanting to volunteer has
currently risen to some 40 students. Moreover, the gender
ratio has relaxed slightly over time. Currently, some 30% of
the volunteers are male. One of the female volunteers
commented on the continuing over-representation of female
students as follows: ‘Most of the male students prefer
volunteer hours which are not too demanding and easy to
carry out, such as organizing exhibitions on campus’.
By holding interviews, the local project coordinator tries to
figure out which applicants suit the project and he selects
some 5 – 7 volunteers for each of the two clubs. He
commented that it sometimes takes time to distinguish
between those whose sole interest is to have the hours
accredited and those who really want to get involved.
The student volunteers accepted to work with the camp
children are then added as members to the Facebook (FB)
group that was set up by the coordinator at the beginning of
the project (note: Organization, even of official / job related
matters via FB, is very common here). The FB group
contains brief descriptions of each clubhouse session along
with photos of the sessions and screen shots of the
children’s work on the computers. The new volunteers can
browse through the feed of past postings inside the group to
get a feeling of how the sessions have been run in the past.
In addition, the FB group is used as an interactive space for
student volunteers to participate in an exchange of ideas
related to their clubhouse tutoring work. For example,
volunteers can suggest, vote for, and comment on new ways
to make the work with the children more fun and engaging.
The coordinator uses the FB group to post important alerts
and announcements.
In contrast to our second computer clubhouse in Al Amari,
the volunteers who finally decide to work in Jalazone are
mostly - but not completely – based in the camp itself.
There are a couple of reasons for this. First, Jalazone
borders on Beit El, an Israeli settlement and a military
outpost. Similar to most Israeli settlements, and for
security reasons, Beit El is built on top of a steep hill and is
protected by a 12-meter-high wire fence, equipped with
high-tech security and surveillance equipment. It is
approximately 500 meters away from the camp and is
separated from it by a road which Palestinians use to access
the camp. Israeli settlers use a special road on the other
side of the settlement. Due to the close proximity of the
settlement to the camp, there are frequent clashes between
young people in the camp and Israeli settlers and soldiers.
During the last nine months, three unarmed youngsters
(aged 14 – 21) were shot and killed by Israeli soldiers,
while many others have been seriously injured by rubber
bullets. Residents of the camp have told us that on more
than one occasion, IDF (Israel Defense Forces) soldiers
from Beit El’s army outpost have utilized the Jalazone
camp as a training field. We were told that training
exercises are carried out at night by Israeli soldiers in full
combat gear. These involve random house raids and mock
arrests, sparking clashes with the civilian in-camp residents
and panic among children and the elderly.
Consequently, the Jalazone camp is usually perceived to be
more dangerous than other refugee camps in the region.
Secondly, Jalazone is more difficult to reach by public
transport from the university campus.
Compared with other volunteer options, the students found
working as a tutor to be very time-consuming, labor-
intensive and emotionally engaging. Although most
volunteers have lived in the camp all their lives, they
appreciated having the chance to carry out meaningful work
for the community within the camp. They valued the
opportunity of working with young children as well as
making friends with each other. Moreover, the work in the
computer club gave visibility to them inside the camp
community. For instance, M, the head of the camp
administration, expressed his surprise that so many of the
camp’s residents attended Birzeit University. This fact was
not in line with his assumptions about the educational
trajectories of young people inside the camp.
Most of the volunteers did not have any experience in
working with children and only a few of them were
studying computer science or computer systems
engineering. Due to this, they initially expressed concerns
that their computer skills were not profound enough. We
also learnt that other Birzeit students from the camp did not
want to volunteer in their own camp. One female student
told us that she feels ashamed to live in a refugee camp and
doesn’t want to be associated with it. Volunteering in the
computer club project would only stress her situation.
Ever since volunteering at the beginning of the project,
three females, all from the camp, have decided to continue
working in the clubhouse. This engagement is over and
above the hours for which they are accredited. One of the
students even extended her engagement after finishing her
studies, despite being hired by a foreign
telecommunications company. These three students have
developed into lead volunteers who play an important role
in helping the new volunteers understand both the local
conditions and their tasks.
Since most of the computer club participants are elementary
school children, the average age of participants in Germany
is between 6 and 10 years old. While most of the schools in
Germany are co-educative, mono-education is common in
Palestine. This also applies to the Jalazone refugee camp. In
the first workshop with the female tutors and the head of
Dima organization, the authors discussed the possibility of
drawing boys and girls together in the computer club. On
one hand, the tutors deemed it difficult to have mixed-
gender sessions and recommended two different sessions,
one for the boys and another for the girls. This is because
they envisaged that the parental preference would be single-
gender sessions which conforms to what they have been
accustomed to in the camp’s schools. They also assumed
that only mothers would participate with their children as
the fathers had to work all day long and would be too tired
in the afternoon. On the other hand, the head of Dima
promised to get girls and boys to attend the computer club
at the same time. During the first two sessions, and in
contrast to the schools, both genders – boys and girls –
attended the computer club together at the same time, in the
same room. However, ‘un-forced’ gender segregation was
clearly seen in the room as the girls sat next to each other
while the boys sat at the opposite ends in a U-shaped
seating configuration. When asked to work in groups, the
participants almost always formed single-sex teams.
Consequently, and also due to the high number of
attendees, the tutors decided to hold 2 sessions per week –
one for each gender. As time progressed, the number of
boys attending sessions decreased and the tutors then
decided to revert back to mixed-gender sessions: ‘We have
mostly boys and not so many girls. I wish more girls would
attend the sessions. I’m ashamed, when I’m alone’ (Bissan,
female, 11-years old).
To advertise the computer club, the tutors created posters
during the first session and distributed them within the
refugee camp in places like shops and cafés. After this
campaign, the head of the NGO insisted on taking
responsibility for the advertising. As a result, the rather
large weekly fluctuation in the number of participants made
it difficult for the tutors to follow-up the children’s projects.
Also the age gap of eight to 15-year old participants wasn’t
easy to deal with, since the older ones didn’t want to work
together with the younger participants due to different
Club Sessions
Usually, the weekly German club sessions are timed to have
round-table discussions at the beginning and end. This
means that the principle of informal learning without a
fixed curriculum is being followed. There is also an explicit
leisure time slot for the children to play games and
suchlike. We tried to establish a similar sequence in
Jalazone and explained both the principle and our
experiences to the student volunteers. Since the very first
sessions tended to be a little disorganized, the local project
coordinator outlined a curriculum together with the student
volunteers. For the following year, the participants were
taught a different component of Scratch every session.
Besides their self-created curriculum, they used different,
more extensive educational material. Due to the great
demand, the group of 25-30 participants was split into two
smaller groups. However, the idea of having two club
sessions one after the other on the same day didn’t fully
work out: ‘The tutors told me to leave after the session. But
I stayed, I want to learn something’ (Ahmed, 14-years old).
Instead of leaving the club after their session, children from
the first group stayed behind and tried hard to join the
second group. This resulted in tutors still having to look
after a lot of children at the same time (see Figure 1). Over
the following months, the number of participating children
fluctuated depending on schoolwork, weather conditions,
and other reasons such as sports events and the soccer
games that occasionally took place at the same time as
clubhouse sessions. The computer club therefore began to
run one or two sessions per week depending on demand. As
in the German computer clubs, the weekly club sessions in
Jalazone camp lasted for an hour and half each.
As a consequence of their abject living conditions due to
overcrowding, Palestinians living in refugee camps are
subject to mental health issues and stress [2]. While
working with the children in the clubhouse sessions, we
observed that many had conduct issues such as lacking a
sense of responsibility, aggressivity and fighting with other
children, and unwillingness to work within a team. The
project coordinator had to assign 3 - 4 mentors to be present
at each of the sessions to work alongside the children in
order for the session to proceed according to plan.
Figure 1. Computer club participants in Jalazone
After an introduction to Scratch, the participants engaged in
their first projects. Most of them created animations or
games, but a group of three children wanted to prepare a
presentation about the history of the camp and the hardship
endured by people living there. As Chahd told us: ‘We can
develop ideas. And create programs to tell stories with
pictures’ (Chahd, female, 12 years old).
They collected personal pictures from their parents and
grandparents and wrote down the stories their relatives told
them. With the help of the tutors, they articulated
everything together in a single presentation. In this project,
they had to deal with the conflict and the forced
displacement of their families. A lot of these activities and
projects can be compared to those in the German computer
clubs, where Scratch is also very popular and has been used
for many years, mainly to create animations and games.
The use of Scratch and presentation software can be seen as
tools used in “digital storytelling” [4,18] in both the
Palestinian as well as in the German computer clubs. In one
of the German computer clubs, the children – supported by
their parents – created a brochure about the neighborhood
where they lived and this was very similar to the Palestinian
family stories. For the Palestinian children, Scratch also
serves as a tool for expressing their feelings and emotions
in regard to their poor socio-economic living conditions:
Bet El, an Israeli settlement, is situated very close to
Jalazone; therefore incidents such as violent
demonstrations, shootings and struggles between settlers
and refugees take place very often. For example, a 14-year
old boy was shot dead by Israeli soldiers in late 2013. In the
following weeks some of the participants created several
Scratch projects relating to this incident (see Figure 2). ‘My
friends and I programmed a story in which we passed the
settlement and helped youngsters to throw stones at the
settlement’ (Salsabil, 13-years old).
Figure 2. Scratch project regarding an incident in which
a boy from the refugee camp was shot dead by Israeli
Technical infrastructure
M. was very eager to have the computer hardware set up as
quickly as possible. At first, M. insisted that a minimum of
20 desktop computers were needed, as he expected a high
number of participants. After careful planning, a system of
13 thin-client networked computers along with 2 host
(server) computers was deployed. This system was cheaper,
easier to administrate and not as theft-prone as normal
personal computers, but also came with some
disadvantages. Creating Scratch projects with sound
became very difficult without USB, microphone and
speaker plug-in. The computers were connected to the
internet despite the fact that the connection wasn’t always
reliable. Occasional electricity outages, common within the
camp, are even more critical. As in Germany, the computer
clubs were also provided with a B/W laser printer, a
scanner and a projector. After almost two years’ use, the
system and the other hardware is still operational and in
use. M. looks after it and has even updated the whole
system with a new version of the operating system without
any professional help. This unfortunately led to
compatibility issues. Generally speaking, the lack of both
professional maintenance and IT skills has led to virus
issues, configuration issues, system slowdowns and similar
sys-admin problems.
Exclusion Mechanisms
In September 2012, we conducted informal interviews with
young people in Jalazone’s commercial internet cafés as
well as on the street in front of one of these cafés. The goal
was to find out why they were not attending the clubhouse
sessions. All of the youngsters we talked to were boys who
did not know about the existence of the come_IN computer
club which had opened some four months previously.
A shop owner whose business is located in the vicinity of
the come_IN computer club expressed the opinion that the
people in charge of organizing the come_IN computer club
did not make enough effort in terms of announcing the
existence of the computer club to the refugee camp’s
inhabitants. This led to a situation where the computer club
is – according to his perception – only visited and used by
youngsters who are either family members or friends of the
team which manages the camp. As time progressed, more
in-camp families learned about the clubhouse sessions and
began to send their children. At some point in time, we had
2 children attend who were residents of the nearby village
of Jifna.
In the German computer clubs, we also saw specific
patterns of participation. Typically, the existence of the
computer clubs is rather well communicated in the
elementary schools. However, participation is much more
likely among the children and families who are in the class
of the teacher responsible for running the clubs. Still, the
phenomenon in Germany is less one of family relationship
and exclusion but is rather related to the fact that families in
Germany try to use the computer club to build relationships
with the teacher responsible for their children’s class.
In Palestine, interacting with computers seems to be just as
much an attractor as it is in Germany. There is a huge
amount of interest among the children in Palestinian
refugee camps in working with modern technology.
However, it turned out that the socio-cultural and
institutional framing of the clubs is more of a challenge.
Cooperating with an established local organization is a
crucial factor for being noticed and supported by the
camp’s rather closed society. Since the schools in
Palestinian refugee camps are run by UNRWA who do not
have the capacity to support such extracurricular activities,
the camp’s popular committee or other local NGOs should
be taken into consideration as potential cooperation partners
for establishing and running computer clubs. These
organizations not only have the resources in terms of
buildings or rooms which can be used for the club sessions
but are also very well-connected and respected within the
camp’s society. While in Germany computer clubhouses
almost always benefit from schools’ staff and housing, this
cannot be provided in the case of Palestinian refugee
camps. We hope to foster more collaboration between the
computer clubs and the UNWRA schools in the future.
However, such attempts prove to be quite a challenge.
The technical infrastructure is a major point regarding a
proper and trouble-free implementation of the sessions.
Decisions for a traditional desktop or a thin-client solution
should be grounded in local security concerns, the projected
needs and demands as well as IT skills on hand locally. In
the Jalazone case, the thin-client architecture works but
faces issues regarding long-term stability and maintenance.
Those problems could be alleviated by the incorporation of
local computer experts into the project. However,
hardware-related issues - such as sound problems - are due
to the system architecture and directly influence the
The use of Facebook (FB) as a means of coordination is
very well accepted and established in Palestine. Even in
University settings, FB groups serve as a platform for the
tutors and the local coordinator not only to share past
experiences in terms of pictures and reports but also to
coordinate sessions, discuss further actions, and quickly
rearrange dates in case of unexpected events. Even most of
the children are very active in FB, so the communication
between tutors and children outside the sessions can be
conducted via group chats.
Of course, privacy is an issue in Palestine too, so no
information regarding the children should be publicly
accessible. The projects worked on by attendees cover
similar topics to the children’s projects in Germany. They
are mainly interested in presenting their home, their
background and their own interests. The difference being
that the Palestinian children are more used to existential
issues, such as violence and death and thus integrate these
themes into their project work. Letting them choose the
project topics by themselves has worked very well so far
and should be continued in the same way in future to ensure
a high intrinsic motivation.
Committed voluntary tutors are a major factor in ensuring
reasonable and reliable club sessions. In our case, the
mandatory social service program of BZU was a perfect
match for the club’s needs and on the whole, the student
volunteers are greatly committed to their work in the clubs.
In the case of Jalazone, it was extremely valuable to acquire
a large number of volunteers who themselves live in the
camp as this alleviated the widespread suspicions of the
refugees towards strangers. These insiders can serve as a
connecting link, spanning boundaries towards the local
population as well serving as positive role models for the
children in terms of educational opportunities. At the
beginning of the project, external female tutors felt the need
to be driven directly in front of the club doors. Even after
four months of working there, they still felt they were in a
strange and potentially dangerous environment. No similar
problems pertaining to tutors’ perceived safety have been
experienced in any of the neighborhoods we work in in
Germany. As time progressed, the coordinator and tutors
became more habituated to the camp’s environment. One
year after their first visit to the camp they had developed a
greater and stronger feeling of safety and security although
not to the point at which they felt completely invulnerable.
This can be regarded as an indication of the benefits arising
from the socio-cultural integration and also transcends the
clubs. Strong connections between the volunteers and the
children which have formed over time and have also
motivated volunteers to keep working in the clubs for
extended periods of time emphasize this point.
Compared to the participation pattern of children with a
migrant-background in Germany, we see more fluctuation
and less regularity among the participants in the Palestinian
computer clubs as well as more attendees who are related to
the people involved in the organization of the clubs. A
better and more constant advertisement of club activities
among the camp’s families and local schools would be
likely to attract a more diverse range of participants and
lead to a higher commitment. More regular attendance
could be achieved by creating better awareness and
producing recurrent reminders for the families. The
attendance of mainly family members of the club’s officials
can be put to good advantage in the first months of a new
club opening as these children can spread the word
informally about the existence of club sessions, thus
attracting more children who are not related to the club
officials. However, care and persistence are necessary to
really spread the word and to avoid perception of the club
as an elite institution for the administration’s families.
Furthermore, the camp administration is responsible for
channeling resources to the camp’s population, thus
assigning them a very strong position. The computer
clubhouse, from the administrations point of view, can be
understood as one of these resources. This viewpoint
reflected negatively on how the club was perceived, as well
as on the pattern of club participation. Tutors coming in
from outside felt threatened by certain practices prevalent in
the masculine culture of the camp’s leadership, and while
these structures and practices had a problematic impact on
the flourishing of the computer club, it would have been
difficult to circumvent this institutional given. Despite this,
we continue to see masculine practices throughout the club
being influenced, e.g. through the growing acceptance of
female tutors as well as mixed gender club session which
benefit inclusion.
Relying on the camp administration may mean that the
clubs become a part of the resources which stabilize the
existing power structures inside the camp. At some point,
such a position might pose a threat to some of the
overarching goals of the clubs, specifically the better
inclusion of people living in the camps with those in the
rest of Palestinian society [19]. The camp administration’s
raison d’être is the very existence of the camp. Complete
integration in the rest of the West Bank society would
threaten their position and – in the local perception – the
Palestinian people’s right to return to their pre-1948 lands,
i.e. it is the intention of the camp not to be fully integrated
in West Bank society.” These conditions mean that care
must be taken to position the club houses ‘politically
correctly’. In contrast, in Germany there is a certain
consensus in the political mainstream that the integration of
migrants is politically desirable. In all likelihood, this
massive constraint will continue to be an issue for the
Palestinian computer clubs.
To sum up some of the focal points in the manner of a
primer for other attempts at building similar bottom-up
structures in refugee camps (although this should not be
viewed as a universal checklist – every camp is different
and situated research is always necessary):
- Careful research into local practices and basic values is
crucial – goals such as “immigrants should be included
in mainstream society” might be far from universal;
and even if the (action) researcher believes them to be
true, outside intervention should be well considered.
- Partnering up with a local university is very helpful
since they provide not only insight into local practices
and values but can also help with much needed
structure as well as volunteers.
- Persistence and multiple angles of approach regarding
research and PR are important – both help overcome
issues like exclusion and dissemination practices (e.g.
the focus on relatives as members for the computer
club in the beginning).
- Bottom-up training and exchange are valuable, in the
sense that they bring local coordinators and volunteers
to already established clubs.
- Technical infrastructure should be lean and agile;
however, long-term support regarding the IT
administration should be provided.
- Entanglement in (camp) micro politics is unavoidable,
however, a careful analysis is crucial to avoid being
utilized as a resource in unforeseen and possibly
unwanted political or social ways.
While the come_IN approach itself was inspired by
Resnick’s [14] work, it was yet another stretch to transfer
this approach to Palestine. Germany and Palestine are very
distinct in many cultural as well as socio-economic
dimensions. Specifically, the living conditions of refugees
in the West Bank camps are distinct from the various
migrant communities in German neighborhoods. Along
with the rest of Palestinian society, the camp population has
been living for an even longer period of time in a complex
relationship along than have the migrant communities in
German neighborhoods. While being economically
disadvantaged and considered outsiders, the status of the
Palestinian camp inhabitants offers a number of benefits
and resources mostly channeled through UNWRA and the
camp administration.
The challenge of our research endeavor was to share
insights gained in Germany while adapting the socio-
technical concept to the different context. We assumed that
our publications and written materials would only provide
limited insight into the experience we gained during almost
ten years of project work in Germany. We therefore
organized an exchange of expertise among the partners at
different points in time [1]. Various members of the
German project team spent substantial amounts of time in
understanding the local context and preparing for the
opening of the club. Moreover, we invited the Palestinian
project manager to Germany for a week to let him see the
German clubs in action. Such a bottom-up approach to
mutual learning is distinct from Intel’s way of spreading
their version of computer clubhouses around the world [24].
Our model entails a partnership between a university and a
computer club, one in which the university supports the
club activities through student mentors, coordination,
obtaining funds, and expertise sharing. Many aspects of this
model were transferred across different contexts from
Germany to Palestine, albeit in interesting ways. In
Palestine, we decided to work with a local university,
Birzeit, to build the club, adding a second university player
to the support structure. Even though they coordinate the
local activities and engage undergraduate students to tutor
the club, their social recognition in the camp is quite
Over time, as part of a long-term plan for sustainability, it is
our hope that most if not all of the local university roles can
be taken over by Birzeit.
We thank Batya Freidman, University of Washington, for
kind comments on an earlier draft of this paper.
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... They are to some extent comparable to workshops in ICT4D, because digital literacy is not yet fully developed in either group. Computer Clubs, introduced at two locations in Palestine, are further examples of transformative policy aimed at developing digital iteracy among marginal groups (Aal et al., 2009;Yerousis et al., 2015). The Computer Clubs follow the action research approach, involving local volunteer tutors, specifically focusing on areas with a high percentage of migrants. ...
... Despite these challenges, there has been evidence of concepts established in the "developed world" being transferred to a different culture (Aal et al., 2009;Yerousis et al., 2015), while facing problems with the technical, legal, and social infrastructure. Such problems are not uncommon in ICT projects in the Global South. ...
... Therefore, the goal for a further iteration would include designing a more general interface, which can be flexibly customised for specific needs. To be able to do this, Design Case Studies in these contexts could help point out the differences, similarities, and opportunities for transferal, as has been done by previous studies (Aal et al., 2009;Elovaara et al., 2006;Yerousis et al., 2015). ...
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... We looked at the age and gender of the studied migrants. Total of 144 papers specify the age group: adults (n = 89), teens/youth (n = 18, e.g., [48,89]), elders (n = 4, only immigrants, e.g., [66,94]), and children (n = 3, only refugees, e.g., [2,4]). The rest are mixed between these 4 categories. ...
This article presents a thorough discussion of the trajectories of international migration research in HCI. We begin by reporting our survey findings of 282 HCI-related publications about migration from nine digital libraries between 2010-2019, summarizing how this research stream has evolved, the geographies and populations it encompasses, and the methodologies it utilizes. We then augment these findings with data from interviews with 11 skilled researchers who reflect on their working experience in this area. Our analysis reveals how the domain has evolved from the European migrant crisis to a more global agenda of migration and points towards a shifting focus from addressing immediate needs to acknowledging more complex political and emotional aspects of mobility. We also uncover the critical role of academic, local, and international politics in migration research in HCI. We discuss these findings to explore future opportunities in this area and advance HCI research discourse with the marginalized populace.
... The topic has been extensively dealt with in research publications, as well as conventional news outlet reports. The relation of the ICT use and social, political, and cyber activism is a topic of ongoing interest for the HCI research community instantiated, for example, in the "Tunisian spring" (Buhl, 2011;Wulf, Aal, et al., 2013), activism in Syria , Palestine (Wulf, Misaki, et al., 2013;Aal et al. 2014), Egypt (Al-Ani et al., 2012;Buhl, 2011), Iran (Rohde, 2004), Ukraine (Shklovski & Wulf, 2018) and Mexico (Monroy-Hern andez et al., 2013). The approach described later in this paper, we believe, would serve to provide for the surveillance detection mentioned in almost all above papers, but also to inform activists how to protect themselves. ...
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