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When coders meet powder – the Powercoders ski day in Engelberg

Do you remember the first time you tried skiing?

Seven refugee students and alumni from around the world took the plunge last December in Engelberg. The charming alpine village in canton Obwalden, along with several generous donors, made this initial skiing experience possible. They were joined by a couple more students who had previously skied.

How the idea of a ski day came about

I am a job coach for Powercoders, a non-profit coding academy for refugees. When not in front of a computer, our students are eager to learn about Switzerland. Once before, I had invited my coachee, Jean Cédric Ntwari, on summer hiking trips up to Grosser Mythen and along the exposed Brienzergrat.

Seeing just how much Jean Cédric enjoyed doing something new and physically challenging, and already knowing some of the other Powercoders, I decided to organise a group ski day - ski instruction included.

The main concern was how to make it as affordable as possible. I wanted to avoid excluding anyone for purely financial reasons, so I put a post on LinkedIn asking for volunteer ski instructors. I also reached out to Engelberg-Titlis tourism to see if they could help with some of the costs of lift passes and equipment rental. The response was very positive, and all the elements soon fell into place.

For the event to take place as planned on December 20, 2020, several factors needed to align: the weather, snow conditions, and the coronavirus restrictions. The Gods appeared to be in favour of the event, as the weather and snow conditions were fine. And the resort remained open yet shut only two days later, on December 22!

An enriching experience

As the day went on, it was extremely enriching to see all the smiles and the increasing confidence of participants in their own ski abilities.

Up and down they go...

Feedback from the participants as well as the ski instructors was extremely positive, with several people asking whether there can be a follow-up event. To quote excerpts from a few of the participants:

Tahir Anil Sengül, originally from Turkey

“I've been in Switzerland for two years. The wonderful activity you organised today was the best I have attended in these two years.”

Nurullah Cildag, originally from Turkey

“Today I have experienced one of my greatest days in Switzerland. Thank you.”

Jean Cédric Ntwari, originally from Burundi

“What a day to remember! Thank you so much.”

What is Powercoders all about?

With over 70.5 million refugees in the world, and millions of vacant IT jobs, Powercoders helps refugees to start a new life wherever they are forced to go. This non-profit organization not only helps to fill some of Switzerland’s 40’000 vacant IT jobs. Powercoders also contributes to the UN Sustainable Development Goals “Quality Education”, “Decent Work”, and “Reduced Inequalities”.

The Powercoders coding academy for refugees offers a three-month coding boot camp followed by a six to 12-month internship. The goal is to nurture skilled IT workers who can be permanently placed in IT companies and IT departments.

Thanks to our sponsors

With skiing being rather expensive, especially for beginners with no equipment, we much appreciated all the corporate support to make this event accessible to all. Lift passes were provided by Brunni and Engelberg-Titlis.

While Intersport Titlis provided the equipment, volunteer ski instructors Elena Stabla, Karine Duschletta and Michael Kefeder took our group onto the slopes.

Want to learn more about Powercoders?

The first Powercoders program started in Bern in 2017. You can watch founder Christian Hirsig talk about the Powercoders journey in this TEDx talk entitled “Opening Doors for Refugees in the IT Industry”:

Paul Janes

Working in financial services as an Artificial Intelligence advisor, Paul is passionate about emerging tech and how it can be applied to solve business problems and make new business models possible. A father of two, he also enjoys volunteering activities and running. Originally from the UK, he has lived in Zurich since 2007.

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Paul Janes

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