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Press Release -- June 17th, 2011
Source: Skype
Tags: Exchange, Video

Australia for UNHCR launches world-first ‘interactive penpals’ project with Skype

  • In a global first, one Australian school will form a unique partnership with a Ugandan refugee school
  • The collaborative Here & There program will enable the school children in both countries to learn about each other’s lives, as part of their geography lessons

SYDNEY and LUXEMBOURG, 17 June 2011 – Australia for UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency’s charity in Australia, has partnered with Skype to offer a world-first educational opportunity to an Australian school.

The Here & There program will team an Australian school with the Australian-funded school at Nakivale refugee settlement in Uganda, with the children involved given the chance to work together on a creative project to learn more about each other’s lives.

Here & There is aimed at raising awareness around issues facing refugees among Australian schoolchildren, their parents and the wider population. It is purpose-designed to dovetail with the Australian geography curriculum, ensuring participating children attain maximum educational benefit while undertaking this life-changing opportunity to share their thoughts and experiences with children who have very different lives.

Commenting on the partnership, Naomi Steer, National Director for Australia for UNHCR, said: “Many of the children in Nakivale have spent nearly their whole lives in refugee situations, so the opportunity to meet kids on the other side of the world is very exciting.

“Our donors have also really embraced opportunities for deeper connection with refugees. On previous visits to Nakivale, we have carried written messages of support from our Australian donors to share with the children and their families. They have been very enthusiastic about this exchange, asking for other ways they could interact. The partnership with Skype gives us the tools to make this a reality,” Ms Steer said.

“After four years of Australian support for Nakivale refugee settlement, we are delighted to be able to foster direct links between the children of Nakivale and their Australian counterparts. Our Australian donors have funded many areas of Nakivale such as shelter, water, health and education facilities, including building the first ever secondary school.

“We want to celebrate and recognise this special connection by developing closer links between Australia and the refugee settlement,” she said.

The project builds on Skype’s existing partnership with UNHCR and commitment to breaking down barriers to communication: “We are delighted to collaborate with UNHCR to promote the Here & There programme,” said Jacqueline Botterill, Skype’s CSR Manager. “As part of Skype’s dedication to connecting everyone on the planet, the use of real-time video will offer the selected Australian school and students from Nakivale refugee settlement an immediate way to interact with new cultures, languages and ideas, all without leaving the classroom.”

For more details, and information on how to apply, please refer to the background information.

About Australia for UNHCR
Australia for UNHCR was established in 2000 as part of UNHCR’s global fundraising network. Its mission is to provide life changing humanitarian support to refugees and other displaced and stateless people who come under the care and protection of the UN Refugee Agency.

About Skype
Skype is a communications software whose purpose is to break down barriers to communication. With an Internet-connected device, families, friends and colleagues can get together for free with messaging, voice and video. At low cost, they can also call landlines or mobiles virtually anywhere in the world. Skype has recently introduced group video, allowing groups of more than two people to do things together whenever they’re apart.

Founded in 2003 and based in Luxembourg. Skype can be downloaded onto computers, mobile phones and other connected devices for free at You can get news and updates from Skype on its blog:, Twitter:!/Skype or Facebook:

About UNHCR and Skype
UNHCR partnered with Skype in 2010 to provide its overseas aid workers with a way to communicate with their friends and families. Skype and UNHCR are subsequently exploring the development of a communications solution that will benefit refugees more directly. Using the knowledge and experience from the deployment of Skype to UNHCR staff, the solution will aim to allow refugees to reach family and friends across borders and will also be used to facilitate protection operations, including repatriation, resettlement and family reunification. By the end of 2011, the aim is for Skype to be in at least 80 percent of UNHCR hardship locations and available to more than 3,000 staff members.


How Australians are helping Nakivale
Nakivale, in south-west Uganda, is one of Africa’s oldest and largest refugee settlements, currently home to more than 56,000 people fleeing conflicts in nearby countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Australia for UNHCR has been supporting the Nakivale refugee settlement in Uganda for more than four years, improving the health and living conditions of its long-term residents through support for water, education, maternal health, general healthcare and skills training.

How to apply for Here & There
Secondary schools across Australia have been invited to apply to participate in Here & There, explaining why they would like to share stories about their lives with the children of Nakivale. The school selected will then work with the school in Nakivale on a multimedia project designed to help students understand differences and similarities in childhood as experienced in their respective countries. This will provide a unique global education experience, with participating children interviewing one another on a supervised Skype video call in September this year.

To be eligible for the Here & There programme, the Australian school must apply online via before close of business August 20th, 2011. Schools are encouraged to exercise creativity in their application through innovative use of multimedia, using either video or images.

Australians are encouraged to support and share their favourite submissions. The panel, comprised of education and UNHCR representation, will be selecting the school based on the following criteria:

  • Passion for the project
  • Creativity in their application
  • A belief that the project will be beneficial to the school
  • Connection to the curriculum content in a specific subject

The panel will comprise:

  • Sue Field, Vice President, Geography Teacher’s Association, NSW
  • Jane Turner, Actress, Writer and A4U Special Representive
  • Rick Towle, Regional Representative, UNHCR
  • Rick Millen, PWC *

Skype’s support for UNHCR
While supporting the Australia-funded Nakivale settlement, the Here & There program also builds on UNHCR’s existing global partnership with Skype, which has developed bespoke technology for deployment across 120 hardship locations served by UNHCR staff members around the world.

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