A student-led initiative to help improve lives of migrant workers

The trio aims to extend their workshops to schools across Dubai, providing training for service workers

By Kushmita Bose

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Ujjwal Aggarwal, Brian Maina and Ishan Puri
Ujjwal Aggarwal, Brian Maina and Ishan Puri

Published: Wed 20 Sep 2023, 10:08 AM

DigifyDubai is a non-profit organisation, started by Ujjwal Aggarwal, along with Ishan Puri and Brian Maina, all students at GEMS Wellington International School.

Originally, the trio founded DigifyDubai as part of their submission to a competition hosted by the IB. The competition provided an opportunity for students across the world to submit applications for their own initiatives, and winners took home up to $3,000 in funding.

For their initiative, Aggarwal, Puri and Maina decided they wanted to host weekly workshops in Bur Dubai, focusing on teaching migrant workers crucial technological skills, to solve a problem they observed, the digital divide amongst migrant workers.

“In a city so ahead of its time like Dubai, it’s disappointing to see the vast inequality when it comes to the working conditions and quality of life faced by migrant workers, especially when compared to those in the upper classes,” says Aggarwal.

He continued by adding that he believes many of these humanitarian issues can be attributed to a lack of digital literacy. “I have witnessed the lack of access migrant workers have to resources such as laptops and a high-speed internet connection, and the skills associated with using the internet. And having seen this, the three of us believe that if many of these workers had some of the rudimentary know-how when it comes to modern technology, such as being able to utilise MS Office and accessing online courses, their labour productivity and value as a worker would skyrocket, along with their quality of life. With digital literacy and the associated skills we use everyday, these workers can better manage their finances, access educational resources, and seek new job opportunities. And we’re trying to provide a simple yet effective solution to this burgeoning problem.”

After submitting their plan to the competition, the trio were not lucky enough to be granted funding amongst the thousands of teams in the competition. However, they were determined to continue this endeavour beyond the competition. “We knew we had an ambitious yet achievable goal, and the ability to work towards it. So, we decided to move forward,” added Puri.

And so, they began offering sessions every Sunday, inviting all local workers to come take part for free. The workers are provided with a classroom and laptops to work with, and within two hours, Ujjwal and Ishaan lead a lesson. The two are able to converse with their students in Hindi and English, and Maina who is from Kenya, is responsible for logistics, managing the classroom, and all necessary equipment and materials.

From crafting professional CVs to picking up the basics of Windows, the content they teach is individually tailored to the practical needs of each worker, says Puri. And with the integration of apps like Duolingo, along with tools such as ChatGPT, he says they have been lucky to witness these workers undertake tasks which previously seemed impossible.

Aggarwal says, over the course of their workshop, workers have begun work on spreadsheets, started using LinkedIn and began to understand how to upskill themselves, all in an effort to boost their standing in the job market.

When speaking to one of their students, Rajesh, he had the following to say about DigifyDubai [translated]: “Hi my name is Rajesh, and I work here in Dubai. We don’t know much about technology, how to book tickets, visas, and such. With the help of these people and their programme, me and others like me can benefit and learn from what they’re teaching.”

Looking ahead, the trio hopes to expand the organisation via several channels and make a lasting impact.

After leading workshops with their first batch of students, they have come to realise the significance of the potential impact that they can have on the workforce of Dubai. They believe there are hundreds of more workers who can really benefit from taking part. This has led them to conceive possible strategies for expansion, such as using the GEMS network to bring their workshops to schools across Dubai, where classes can be held for service workers in the respective schools, by fellow students.

— kushmita@khaleejtimes.com

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