Young Iraqi children outside the Portal in Harsham Camp in Erbil, Iraq.
The Portal underwent a dramatic upgrade so that UNICEF could connect a young Iraqi entrepreneur with US President, Barack Obama.
In Harsham Camp on the outskirts of Erbil, there’s a window on the world — and it’s painted bright gold.
When you step into a Portal, you feel as if you are in the same room as the other person.Portals are a global initiative run by Shared Studios.Portals are usually made in shipping containers, but in Harsham Camp, UNICEF Iraq and partner Terre des Hommes improvised, creating the Portal in a disused pumping station with equipment donated by Shared Studios.The Portal underwent a dramatic upgrade as UNICEF prepared to connect Ali Ismail, a young entrepreneur from Baghdad, to a special Portal at the 2016 Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Silicon Valley, California. Or would he be called away by important affairs of state?The man on the other end of the videoconference would be the President of the United States, Barack Obama speaking to people in four other Portals across the world. Would our much-needed Portal upgrades be ready in time?
Would our internet connection in the camp be adequate for a five-way videoconference?The UNICEF team and Terre des Hommes worked on Portal renovations, including re-painting inside and out, installing air conditioning, establishing a temporary Wi-Fi connection, and upgrading our equipment.Ali, the young man on our end of the Portal, also had to be convinced to fly to northern Iraq, meet with complete strangers, and prepare to have a chat with the President of the United States.UNICEF hired camp residents, who have been displaced from Mosul for more than two years, to help with the renovations.We carpeted the walls and installed a floor to ceiling viewing screen so that Ali and President Obama could speak as if they were in the same room.Ali flew to Erbil just a day before the connection.