Posted by: Jorge Just


Rapid route to reuniting Congolese refugee children in Uganda with their families

(original article posted here:

Meet Rosete, Birungiste and Samuel, three children who fled conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, only to wind up separated from their families in a Ugandan transit centre. See how an advance in technology can speed locating their families.

© UNICEF/2013/Kasamani
Two boys wait to be offloaded from a truck carrying more than 100 Congolese refugees who arrived at the Bubukwanga transit centre in Bundibugyo District, Uganda. As rebels and government troops clash, fleeing children are sometimes separated from their families.

By Tanya Accone

BUNDIBUGYO, Uganda, 5 August 2013 – Ten-year-old Rosete Simanyi’s dream was to attend school. But her family could not afford to send her and her three younger sisters. Rosete* was needed for household chores, such as fetching water and firewood and helping to do the washing. 

Rosete’s work did not prevent her from stopping to observe lessons at the school, as she went about her domestic chores in the town of Kamango, eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. 

Rosete: From chores – to refugee

Recently, fighting broke out in Kamango between government troops and a rebel group. When the rebels attacked, Rosete fled along with the other inhabitants, everyone scattering in different directions. She followed other fleeing adults, eventually making her way to the Busunga border post, where she boarded a truck that brought her to Bubukwanga transit centre in Bundibugyo District, Uganda. She had no idea where her parents and sisters were.

A transit centre is a safe area at which refugees stay temporarily. Afterwards, they may return to their home country, if circumstances permit, or can transfer to a camp designed for longer-term living. 

When Rosete entered Bubukwanga, she was immediately identified as an unaccompanied minor, as she had been separated from her parents and other relatives and was not being cared for by an adult who was responsible for doing so. 

Rosete is registered by RapidFTR

Rosete was registered by the Uganda Red Cross using the innovative digital registration tool Rapid Family Tracing and Reunification (RapidFTR). RapidFTR was developed by UNICEF to support the fast registering of unaccompanied and separated children. 

This cell phone-based system enables information about each child to be saved into a shared database. First used in Nyakabande transit centre and Rwamwanja refugee settlement camp in February 2013, RapidFTR has reduced the time required for information to become available from more than six weeks to a matter of hours. The children’s details had previously been recorded on paper and transported to offices in different countries. Now, authorized staff have access to the information the moment it is uploaded to the database.

© UNICEF/2013/Kasamani
Mark Safari, Tracing Officer of the Uganda Red Cross, uses an innovative digital registration tool developed by UNICEF to support the fast registering of unaccompanied and separated Congolese refugee children at the transit centre.

The Uganda Red Cross uses RapidFTR to facilitate its care for children who are unaccompanied, and Save the Children uses it for registering children separated from their parents or primary caregiver, but not necessarily from other relatives. 

RapidFTR uses the same type of security as mobile banking to ensure that family-tracing information, especially photos, is accessible only by authorized users to protect these vulnerable children.

Rosete: A relative found

Rosete remembers answering questions and having her photo taken by Tracing Officer of the Uganda Red Cross . 

“I was hoping for assistance,” she reflects. 

Just three days after Rosete had arrived at Bubukwanga, the information captured in RapidFTR was used to verify and reunite her with her aunt. Rosete has moved out of the tent designated for unaccompanied minors and separated girls to a communal shelter with the aunt. Her situation will be routinely monitored to ensure she is being well cared for.

“Now, we have the information we need in our pockets at any moment,” says Mr. Safari. 

Birungiste finds calm

Birungiste, 9, was worried about her safety and future when she fled to the transit centre in Uganda. “My mother is divorced from my father a long time, and my father has died,” she says. 

Birungiste broke her leg when she was younger. It did not set properly, so she relies on a crutch to move around. This disability makes her especially vulnerable at the transit centre. 

Birungiste drew comfort from seeing some familiar faces from her village, fellow refugees who had fled together. She spotted her sister-in-law and alerted Senior Tracing Assistant at the Uganda Red Cross Bwambale Expechito. After Uganda Red Cross had verified the relative, Birungiste moved into a family tent. Birungiste’s aunt located her older sister Rose, who had arrived at the centre earlier.

© UNICEF/2013/Kasamani
Rosete,10, is one of the 63 out of 122 unaccompanied Congolese refugee children who have been reunited with their families at the transit centre.

“My mind is now beautifully calm. I am happy,” she says. Her hopes are now focused on going back to school and regular domestic chores. “School is what I like most,” she says. “I am in primary one, and I want to go back to school.”

Samuel misses school

Education is also on 15-year-old Samuel’s mind. He fears the worst about his parents’ fate. “I am alone. I am all alone,” he says. He hopes to be reunited with the aunt with whom he had been living near Kamango before fleeing alone to Uganda when rebels attacked.

Samuel has become somewhat of a leader among the boys, a group of whom follow him around the refugee transit centre. His most pressing concern is the effect his displacement is having on his schooling.

“I only have three more years of school before I will take my exam and finish,” he explains. “I am losing time now when I should be studying. And what will happen if I cannot continue my schooling in French? English is difficult to learn. I think that if I will have to go to school in English, it will take me much longer.” 

Mr. Expechito has interviewed Samuel and captured his details in RapidFTR. 

To date, 63 out of 122 unaccompanied children have been reunited with their families. If Samuel cannot be reunited with his family, he will have the option of being fostered by another refugee family, with his care routinely monitored.

* Some names have been changed.

Posted by: Jorge Just


UNICEF to deploy innovative RapidFTR system to reunite Congolese families in Uganda


By Charles-Martin Jjuuko

KAMPALA, Tuesday, 16 July 2013- The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is preparing to deploy its innovative Rapid Family Tracing and Reunification (RapidFTR) tool to facilitate the quick identification of children separated from their families, or those unaccompanied by adults in the latest influx of Congolese refugees into western Uganda.

The Uganda Red Cross Society in Bubandi Sub County, Bundibugyo District, reports that it registered over 66,000 refugees in space of three days after fighting by suspected Allied Democratic Forces rebels erupted inside the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), on 11 July. New arrivals initially stayed at five primary schools and various other sites, until a transit camp was prepared at the Bubukwanga Sub County headquarters, some 28 kilometres from Uganda’s border with the DRC border and 8 kilometres from the Ugandan town of Bundibugyo.

Ensuring the safety of separated and unaccompanied children crossing into western Uganda to escape the fighting is a key concern, and a number of unaccompanied minors have already been identified.

“RapidFTR is designed to help us quickly establish a child’s identity and that of their family, after which tracing and reuniting them becomes much easier,” said Dr. Sharad Sapra, UNICEF Representative in Uganda. “We are working very closely with UNHCR, ICRC, Uganda Red Cross Society and Save the Children to facilitate this process among the refugees from DRC.”

RapidFTR is a versatile, open-source mobile phone application and data storage system that helps humanitarian workers to swiftly collect, sort and share information about unaccompanied and separated children in emergency situations. This process used to be paper based, but with RapidFTR, children are digitally registered for care services. Their photographs and key details are immediately accessible among humanitarian workers via their mobile phones and using the shared data storage system. This helps to more quickly trace and reunite children with their families.

UNICEF and other humanitarian partners have responded to the emergency under overall co-ordination of the Ugandan Office of the Prime Minister. The UN child rights agency has provided a range of supplies in the areas of health, education, water, sanitation and hygiene. These include over 160 kilogrammes of chlorine to purify water for 50,000 people, three 10,000-litre water tanks, regular transporting of water to meet the needs of the displaced and a cholera kit for use in the event of an outbreak. To ensure that children can continue learning, 60 “School-in-a-Box” kits have been provided, which can support 2,400 children. Tents to create temporary child-friendly spaces and 40 recreational kits have been provided to cover the needs of up to 800 children.

Before the recent influx of refugees in Bundibugyo, Uganda was already host to more than 210,000 registered refugees and asylum seekers, 63 percent of whom originate from the DRC. RapidFTR has been successfully used to support emergency activities among other refugee populations in Uganda.


See the original story here:


Posted by: Jorge Just


New mobile application helps speed up family reunification for Congolese child refugees in Uganda

(see the original story here:

A new mobile application seeks to bring together separated and unaccompanied children and their families – in emergency situations.

By Dheepa Pandian

KAMWENGE DISTRICT, western Uganda, 19 March 2013 – Pascal, 15, fled the Democratic Republic of the Congo when rebels attacked his village. He arrived at Rwamwanja refugee settlement, Uganda, a month ago.

“I came from Congo because they were fighting and I was scared of dying, so I just ran away with a group of boys,” he says, his voice trembling. “We ran into an ambush, but I managed to escape. I then got picked up by strangers and managed to cross over to Uganda with them.”

Pascal was at school when the rebels came. As he had no choice but to flee without his family, Pascal is one of the children who have come across the border unaccompanied since fighting broke out in 2011.

Mobile application for emergencies

Rwamwanja settlement spans 41 square km. Having taken most of the Congolese new arrivals, the camp is nearing its maximum capacity of 50,000 residents.

Because of the size of the settlement, reunifying children like Pascal with their families or even with fellow villagers has been a daunting task. But a mobile phone application introduced by UNICEF has made the process much easier.

The application, RapidFTR, is designed to streamline and speed up family tracing and reunification. It is a data storage system that collects, sorts and shares information about unaccompanied and separated children in emergency situations.

Save the Children and Uganda Red Cross are currently using RapidFTR at this camp for the first time to search for children’s family members.

Tracing sooner, rather than later

“Before RapidFTR, we would have to use paper and fill out lots of forms to get all the details,” says Child Protection Officer of Save the Children Fatuma Arinaitwe. “This took a lot of time, and then we would go around with a list of names and ask people if they knew these children.”

As is common in many host countries, refugees here arrive first at a transit centre. There, they are registered, and parentless children are identified and verified. Using RapidFTR, details about each child are entered into the phone, and a picture is taken. Protection officers at the receiving camps can access the information instantly and begin tracing even before the child arrives.   

“When we search and find a child, it is easier for us to start tracing much earlier now.  So, as soon as the children get here, we do the reunification,” says Ms. Arinaitwe.

Pascal has been registered and is hopeful that his family or fellow villagers will be found. “Here, I have peace now. I may not have many clothes, but I am at peace.”

“But now,” he adds, “I just want to find my parents.”

Posted by: cary


This update is from Ramya Ramesh, a RapidFTR team member at the Grace Hopper Conference in December...

"Just got back from an awesome and energetic hackathon, organized as part of the Grace Hopper Conference*, in Bangalore, on Dec 12, 2012.

This was the first hackathon organized as part of GHC in India. And fitting to the context of the conference, it was an all-women one too.
RapidFTR was one of the three open source initiatives that were selected to be part of this hackathon (OpenMRS & Camfed were the other two). There were also members from Random Hacks of Kindness who presented two problem statements for the hackers to code away to.

To give a sense of how the day progressed:

We started off by introducing the founding team of this hackathon - Jagruti ,Tina Vinod, Gurpreeth & VijayLuxmi Sinha, among others - to the participants gathered. This was followed by a short introduction to the hackathon, how the idea came about and what each open source application team is trying to address.

Right after this, we had parallel streams set up - one for each RapidFTR, Camfed, OpenMRS, and two for RHOK. Participants signed up for the team of their choice and soon, dived deep into the business problem that the team was trying to solve.

The RapidFTR team had a fairly interested group showing up, with lot of focus on the problem we are trying to address and multiple ideas being pitched about to address the security, the no-connectivity and other issues.  We had freelancers, folks from Microsoft, Intuit, IIT Madras, CTS, etc. among other companies raring to go and contribute to RapidFTR.

We started off with setting up the dev machines for the volunteers. This took us a good 4-5 hours after which we got into discussing more details regarding the stories that we had lined up for the hackathon. Once the volunteers got onto the stories, there was basically no stopping them. Jumping from one story to the next is how I can describe the volunteers' enthusiasm during the event and drive for addressing humanitarian issues. At the end of the day, we not only had some bug fixes and UI enhancements in the system but also a new bunch of folks aware of and excited about RapidFTR and looking forward to future contribution. A great day it was!

* More details regarding what the conference is about and how it came into existence here( and here ("


Posted by: Jorge Just


Martin Fowler (@martinfowler) wrote a great article about the RapidFTR code jams we've been hosting every Tuesday night in New York and with varying degrees of regularity in London, Melbourne, San Francisco, Porto Allegre, and Chennai. His article pretty much runs down the recipe that Zubair Khan and Tom Elkin put together in London and was then polished into a smoothly running machine by the shockingly unlinkable Chris George. He's definitely the champion that Martin refers to here:

To make meaningful progress, you need someone to prepare for each code jam by breaking down work-items into something small enough that people will be able to finish them during the time at the jam. Whatever people may say and hope, they'll rarely work on the project outside code jam hours, and the schedule is too infrequent to want half-done things hanging over. Small tasks allow teams to make perceptible progress each jam - which helps keep motivation high. We like to put these tasks online before each event so people can prepare if they want to, or just get a feel for what we're working on. We also set up a mailing list to keep up regular communication on the jam and support anyone who does contribute outside of the jam.

Our regular code-jams succeed best when the group has a couple of champions who take the lead in organizing the event. It's best to have more than one champion, to cope with the work load and provide some resilience if they are absent for a while.


The other ingredients, of course, are beer and pizza and chocolate covered pretzels, and music. We've dabbled with Spotify and TurntableFM and Tim Cochran's Radiohead collection, but have recently been working to a Pandora channel that's become increasingly bizarre. Each person adds a song or artist every week, with no repeats. After all, you can't change the world without mariachi, 90s corporate rock, acoustic folk, dubstep, and plenty of Beyonce. Listen here

Read Martin's post on his blog.



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