Merhaba wins Rep. Brad Finstad’s 2023 Congressional App Challenge in Minnesota’s First District

Rep. Finstad has named Logan Nguyen Hammel of Century High School, Scott Anderson of John Marshall High School, Fahad Albadri of Century High School, and Ibraheem Razouki of Lamar High School as the winners of the 2023 Congressional App Challenge in Minnesota’s First District.

When asked what inspired the creation of Merhaba, the students said, “The creation of “Merhaba” lies in both statistical reality and a deeply personal connection to the challenges faced by Muslim refugees integrating into American society. In 2022, the United States extended a haven to 25,465 refugees (Council on Foreign Relations), a testament to the nation’s enduring commitment to being a sanctuary of hope. However, a closer look reveals an unsettling narrative – one where the bright promise of a fresh start is often obscured by overwhelming challenges.

Upon their arrival, refugees encounter a daunting cultural chasm. Statistics from the Office of Refugee Resettlement unveil that 44% of refugees are non-English speakers at the onset, with the majority remaining less than proficient in the language. This linguistic barrier, compounded by the fact that only 1% receive higher education (UN High Commissioner on Refugees), exacerbates their vulnerability, making the navigation of their new environment, both geographically and socially, a complex challenge.

Yet, it is not merely these quantifiable challenges that inspired “Merhaba”, but an intimate acknowledgment of the struggles faced by Muslim refugees. Trying to find Qibla, adherence to prayer times amidst unfamiliar surroundings, and the aspiration to meld their rich cultural heritage seamlessly with America  – these are profound journeys imbued with dignity and gravitas.

“Merhaba” was conceived as a bridge to mitigate these challenges. It’s more than an app; it’s a compassionate companion providing a warm welcome, aligning technology with humanity to empower Muslim refugees to transcend barriers, nurture connections, and sow the seeds of belonging in the American tapestry. Every feature from assisting with Qibla and prayer times to providing invaluable resources that help integration into the society – conveys our unwavering belief in the universal language of empathy, respect, and understanding.

In essence, “Merhaba” is not just inspired by the stark numbers and statistics, but by an unwavering commitment to humanize every refugee’s journey, honoring each narrative of hope, resilience, and the indomitable human spirit that chooses light amidst adversity.”

This year’s Challenge saw an unprecedented level of participation, with 374 Members of the House of Representatives hosting competitions, surpassing the previous record of 340. A remarkable 11,334 students from across the United States competed in this year’s Challenge, marking an impressive increase of nearly 1,000 participants compared to the previous record set in 2019. The enthusiasm and creativity these students display is a testament to the growing interest in technology and signal a bright future for American innovation. The surge of ingenuity continued with a whopping 3,645 original applications flooding in, nearly a thousand more than the previous year’s high. This remarkable growth showcases the exceptional talent and innovation within our nation’s youth.

The Congressional App Challenge is an official initiative of the U.S. House of Representatives, where Members of Congress host contests in their districts for middle school and high school students, encouraging them to learn to code and inspiring them to pursue careers in computer science. This resounding show of bipartisan support emphasizes the critical importance of STEM education in today’s rapidly evolving world. Each participating Member of Congress selects a winning app from their district, and each winning team is invited to showcase their winning app to Congress during our annual #HouseOfCode festival