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Israeli nonprofit SmartAid to send communications equipment to Armenia as refugees flood in, fleeing conflict

Organization’s director says connectivity issues are main challenge for local medical NGOs facing influx of 100,000 ethnic Armenians

The Israel-based SmartAid humanitarian organization is readying to deploy telecommunication equipment to Armenia in the coming days as the country absorbs over 100,000 ethnic Armenians who have fled the neighboring Nagorno-Karabakh region following an offensive by Azerbaijan last month, the head of the nonprofit told eJewishPhilanthropy.

“We are looking to deploy these different units and install them in the camps that are forming to help [the charities on the ground] improve the services that they’re providing,” Shachar Zahavi, the founding director of SmartAid, said.

Zahavi said the telecommunications equipment could have already been sent to Armenia, but the organization’s team on the ground was determining if solar-powered generators to provide electricity for the systems were also needed.

“We have systems in the U.S. that are ready to be deployed. The only thing that we were waiting for is if there is a need for any additional types of systems needed,” he said. “That’s why we were waiting another day or so.”

Zahavi said SmartAid’s ground team had reached out to local charities that provide medical and psychological care to determine what they needed to deal with the influx of over 100,000 refugees — out of Nagorno-Karabakh’s population of roughly 120,000 — who have crossed the border into Armenia in recent days.

“They told us what the gap is and how to help them improve the refugees that are crossing the border,” Zahavi said. “The main challenge is telecommunications and the internet.”

Zahavi, who founded SmartAid after leaving another humanitarian aid organization that he started, IsraAid, said the idea behind the organization was to bring Israeli “innovation and entrepreneurship” to the field of disaster relief and humanitarian aid. According to Zahavi, the organization has 10 full-time employees, 50 rotating project-based employees and more than 500 core volunteers.

Zahavi said the technological equipment that SmartAid provides is donated by corporate funders, including companies like SpaceX, Salesforce, Toyota and DHL, while the funding for the teams come from foundations and private donors.

In the case of the Armenian mission, the funding came from “private donors, some family donors,” Zahavi said, declining to identify them.