Future's Butterflies Empowering Syrian Youth through Participatory Design
Background: Za'atari Refugee Camp and the Syrian Refugee Crisis
The brutal civil war in Syria has contributed to the worst global refugee crisis since World War II. As of January 2016, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees registered almost 4.6 million Syrian refugees and reported that the number continues to rise.
Jordan, one of the refugee host countries, has taken more than 635,00 registered Syrian refugees. An estimated 80,000 people are currently residing in the Za'atari refugee camp near the desert town of Mafraq, Jordan. The camp, built in summer of 2012 for about 100 families fleeing the war in Syria, has now grown to become the fourth largest city in Jordan.
- More than 58% of Za'atari residents are under age 17
- Only 15,500 of the 28,000 school-aged children are currently enrolled in one of the camp's 5 schools
- Child marriage, child labor, and vast distances between schools and residences are among the many hurdles youth face in continuing formal education
- A majority of the young people own a mobile phone and use them to help others, serving as information brokers or ICT wayfarers in the camp.
Inspired by the youth of our first trip, we returned to Za'atari In 2015. This time we asked them to design and draw paper prototypes of visionary devices that could help their families and solve problems in their community. The designs conveyed remarkable creativity, innovation, and hope for the future. Beyond illuminating camp life from their unique perspective, the designs also shed light on how nonprofits and social service providers may better meet community needs, potentially even informing future humanitarian responses.
Our mantra is simply "Youth First." That's why we developed in situ, participatory design workshops, where young people are active partners in the design process. We asked the participants to work in pairs to fuel creativity and help ease literacy barriers. They used LEGO Mini-Figures and Bricks, art supplies, color pens, and FUJI Instamax Cameras to create the devices.
Magical devices often depict means of transportation such as this supernatural car that flies to drop off friends at school. Mobility is a challenge in Za'atari for different reasons--many people have physical disabilities, exasperated by war trauma, and there is no public transport to assist with lack of roads.
....or this magic road which can transport anyone in the camp anywhere in an instant. Kids often miss school and people with disabilities cannot get around in the rainy weather for fear of muddying their feet and clothes on Za'atari's dirt roads.
This team used LEGOs to design robots that interpret for children or look after babies when mothers are away from them.
Teams also designed devices similar to existing technology, such as Google glass, but that address particular needs in the camps. One team, who called themselves "Future's Butterflies," designed glasses that help discover and cure diseases.