When Mohammed Alsaleh first came to Vancouver as a refugee, he relied on his smartphone to find many things: language training, housing, career help.
Now, two years later as part of the non-profit coding group PeaceGeeks, Alsaleh is on a team working on an app that helps refugees use their smartphones to survive and thrive in their new surroundings.
"Everything was extra challenging," Alsaleh said of his time as a new arrival. "Our refugee experiences have put us in a situation where we're so helpless in a native land and we had to find our way, use maps, applications to find our way, navigate new cities, use translate apps to talk to the people that we meet."
PeaceGeeks has already developed a widely-used app to help Syrian refugees navigate refugee camps in Jordan called Services Advisor.
That app was released in 2015 in collaboration with the UN and points the way to essentials like shelter, food, and medical assistance.
The goal for the coming app is to provide the same sort of information in a Canadian context.
"We never had a platform where we could find everything we need in the comfort of our cell phone," Alsaleh said. "And it would have been so helpful for me and other immigrants and newcomers to fast-track the settlement process and fast-track the integration process."
PeaceGeeks is hoping to win $750,000 in funding from the Google Impact Challenge to develop the app. They are currently in the top 10 of that competition.