"Empowering kids with photo skills for life" @ Zaatari Camp
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Last updated: December 1, 2014

PHOTOS: Zaatari Camp looking for innovative and sustainable solutions

Banner Icon By using social media one refugee camp is trying to open people’s eyes to the importance of innovation and business.

The Zaatari refugee camp, located 10 kilometres east of the northern Jordanian town of Mafraq, opened in July 2012. This is the first refugee camp with a social media presence. UNHCR’s Nasser Touaibia has been in Zaatari for one and a half year and started the Twitter account one year ago. “We use it to keep in touch with the outside world,” he said over a Skype interview.  


THE IDEA is not only to inform about what is happening in the camp but also to remind people of how life continues here on a daily basis, explained Touaibia. “We also want to kill the stereotypical idea that a camp is just feeding refugees who just sit around and wait.” Instead the aim is to show the camp’s citizens’ innovative talents.


“DYNAMIC AND UNIQUE”

The camp started off as an emergency solution with the capacity of hosting 20,000 refugees. However, with an influx of 4,000 refugees a day it quickly grew as the situation in Syria worsened. “Many came with the mentality that they would soon leave,” explained Touaibia and the same went for the humanitarian staff in the camp: “we didn’t understand each other, it was chaotic in the beginning.” But as the days passed by and the camp grew in both people and capacity the inhabitants began to make themselves at home, there was a shift of mentality and with it came more engagement and stability. “Now it is one of the safest spots in Jordan,” Touaibia claimed.


TODAY ZAATARI covers 530 hectares and is home to 81,500 people. Touaibia described the camp as dynamic and unique. There are hospitals, supermarkets and schools. And there are as many as 3,000 shops, owned and run by the refugees, generating 10 million Jordanian dinars a month. Another important factor, explained Touaibia, is that there is also electricity and Internet connection in parts of the camp. “Electricity means they can have a TV and watch the news and be connected to the outside world.”


INNOVATION

Challenges today include money, making sure that funds keep coming despite that the conflict is entering its fourth year. “We are reaching donor’s fatigue,” said a concerned Touaibia, “and this is very dangerous.” It could threaten the highly developed camp’s infrastructure. 

However, there may be solutions – in innovation. “We are now trying to take the direction of innovation and look for more sustainable ways for the future,” explained Touaibia. This includes partnerships and cooperation with companies such as Swedish furniture company IKEA.


Another example is the camp’s two supermarkets, Safeway and Tazweed, which are now running a system of e-vouchers, where money is put on an e-card, allowing each individual to care for their own grocery shopping. “These companies are good examples of the private sector involvement in the camp.”


Yet challenges remain of course, continued Touaibia, especially in making sure that the communication between the humanitarian staff and the refugees is honest and clear, in order to avoid rumours and misunderstandings.


Do you have any ideas of how innovation can improve the living conditions for people in refugee camps? Share your ideas in the comment section below.

Christine Petré
Christine Petré is an editor at Your Middle East. You can follow her work at www.christinepetre.com.
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