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Empowch's Rural Tech Warrios

July 17, 2022

Bcharre, Lebanon

I sat down with Rami and Mike who are our tech gurus working on Empowch and it was touch and go if we could even connect, as there is only electricity provided between 7pm and 11pm and sometimes not at all. 

On the day we chatted, they told me there was no bread to be bought in the village as grain reserves are under serious threat as the large grain silos in the Beirut port, damaged by an explosion in August 2020,

ignited and are burning as of July 14, 2022 with an imminent threat of collapse. This is on top of the global food crisis as a result of the Russia/Ukraine war.

The Lebanese/Syrian border spans approximately 394 km’s in length and in a small isolated rural village in Lebanon, is where Rami and Mike live. This is the same village where our founder Moataz was born and where some of his family still live. 

When Moataz started work on Empowch, he was based in Washington D.C and had access to an array of highly skilled tech experts throughout North America, but he wanted, as many Lebanese do, to give back to his country of birth, so he approached a tech company in his rural village that helps young talent hone and develop their digital skills. This desire to “pay back and pay forward” is embedded in the fiber of most of the Lebanese Diaspora who have been forced to leave their amazing country to find work.

Lebanon is a country in major financial crisis and rural regions are the most marginalized in the Levant region as any financial assistance and aid is directed toward Beirut and other larger more prominent regions. 3 years ago is when major banks started closing down and hyper inflation began and added to that of course were the economic effects of Covid 19, and the Syrian refugee crisis.

Mike is our front end coder and Rami manages the back end coding and together they have coded the Empowch app from scratch. Mike and Rami met 16 years ago and are 2nd cousins who both went into the tech field. Moataz met them both through the dean of a tech school, providing much needed skills to empower young talent in these rural locations. 

Mike’s day to day starts with a rich cup of traditional arabic coffee, also called “qahua” and then it is off to the office at 9am where he has more coffee. Mike and Rami work in the same office at the same desk. Where they spend all their time coding and talking about “junk food” which they both love. Mike works on the front end with the user interface and user experience portions of the Empowch app using React Native which allows developers to write code for both Android and Apple apps at the same time. Mike has learned React Native from scratch while working on the Empowch app. His favorite practice while coding is to listen to old classic Lebanese singers like Fairuz.

Around 5pm he finishes work at the office and two days a week he volunteers as a firefighter in his community, a passion he developed after watching a movie about firefighters. Mike says that saving and helping people has been the most rewarding experience in his life. When not firefighting, he enjoys spending evenings with his fiance, going to small cafes and coffee shops where they relax and play cards with friends sipping traditional Lebanese Arak. Arak is a traditional Lebanese alcoholic beverage, typically served in small glasses and consumed with mezze platters. It’s distilled from grapes and left to ferment in barrels for three weeks. Arak is traditionally mixed with water to form a milky drink that has an alcohol content upward of 60%. It has a delicious aniseed flavor and is best served with a mezze platter. The drink itself is said to aid in the digestion process and is essential on hot summer days, under the vines eating massive amazing lunches. It is always served as cold as possible.

Rami is not much of a socializer and enjoys spending time at home, studying or playing computer games. Rami prefers to listen to western music of any kind while he codes. Rami does back end coding using Node.js and MySQL where he develops the functions of the code. What appeals most to Rami working on Empowch, is problem solving and in specific solving problems within his own community using tech. One of the greatest hurdles Rami faces working in tech, is that the computer language is all based in English which is not taught much in rural schools in Lebanon. 

This language barrier is one of the greatest hurdles to empowerment of anyone in Lebanon, but especially the youth working in tech. This a problem Empowch want to assist with in the future so that a younger generation can become empowered to get into tech quickly so they can start earning money.

The influx of refugees from Syria into their village has also caused major problems for communities in these rural areas, where resources were already scarce and are now being tapped to the max. 

What Mike enjoys most working on Empowch is the fact that the app solves real problems for real people on the ground. His first hand experience of remittances is a good example. He has to travel over an hour by car using very very expensive petrol,  to the nearest town, to collect cash sent to him by friends at an exorbitant remittance rate . Then because most Syrian refugees can only access cash from remittance, the lines at the Western Union are so long it takes an extra hour to wait in the line and then it is an expensive petrol infused ride back home. Most banks in Lebanon have closed down and people cannot access their own money so they too have to go to Western Union.

Despite all the hardships they both face, they have helped create a remarkable app in Empowch and their drive and passion has never diminished as they see the app providing much needed assistance to their communities, where financial inclusion will help alleviate serious financial stress.

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