SAN JOSE, Calif. — Evert Bopp knows first hand the frustrations and joys of bringing Internet access to disaster sites and refugee camps. The founder of Disaster Tech Lab is looking for technically-minded volunteers who want to join him.
The joys of the job “are many,” he recalled in an interview from his home in Ireland. They include handling satellite phones to teenagers getting out of flimsy boats that carried them from Syria to the Greek island of Lesbos.
“They left medical care lines and came to us…kids who haven’t talked to their Mom and Dad in months burst into tears when they spoke to family members — it was very satisfying to see,” he recalled.
Unfortunately, the frustrations also were sometimes intense. “We run into a lot of bureaucracy on the ground,” he said, describing an event in a camp outside Athens housing about 4,000 refugees.
Initially the Greek military ran the camp and approved Bopp’s proposal for setting up Internet access. While waiting for DSL lines, management of the camp was transferred to officials in the Greek Department of the Interior.
“We were told stop work and submit a new proposal, we had to wait two and a half months until we got the OK — meanwhile we had NGOs pleading for Net access,” Bopp said.
The group offered to provide Internet access for 16 of 30 camps in Greece. However none of the officials from the United Nations, the European Union and the local government in the area knew who to contact to get approval to enter the sites.
“We spent weeks crawling around the Greek government to find out who could give us access permission, and then they wanted work rosters but we couldn’t predict where we needed to be at what hours,” Bopp said. “We’re still installing networks, but if the bureaucracy was not there we could have been finished months ago,” he added.
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