Jordan refugee camp fights boredom with books and technology

Jordan refugee camp fights boredom with books and technologyimage

04 May 2015

Almost 630,000 refugees from Syria’s brutal war are in Jordan. Sprawling refugee camps that have popped up in Jordan have turned into small cities and are struggling to cope with the influx of displaced Syrians.

Four years ago, Azraq was just a sleepy, dust-covered town in the northeast of Jordan, not too far from the border with Syria. It’s now ‘home’ to 18,000 refugees.

But while international organizations, local NGOs and volunteers have impressively tried to provide medical assistance, food and shelter to those that need it, one problem has largely been ignored: boredom.

Camp life can be hard, even dangerous, but also very boring. Many refugees haven’t lost their appetites for educational and cultural fulfilment, longing for the chance to reclaim something ‘normal’ from their previous everyday lives; reading a book or watching a movie.

International charity Bibliothèques Sans Frontières (BSF) – or Libraries without Borders – is hoping to change this for Azraq’s refugees with its pop-up media centre.

The unopened kit – an initiative designed by renowned designer Philippe Starck – resembles an Ikea multi-pack of boxes: simple design and bright colours. It is neatly compacted onto two pallets and can be set up in 20 minutes to cover a space of 100m2.

Named the ‘Ideas Box’, the kit contains paper books, ebooks, computers and a built-in home cinema system, offering the opportunity for the camp’s almost 18, 000 refugees to access culture and education with a safe space.

The first box was delivered to a camp in Burundi last year, sheltering refugees that had fled war-torn Congo. The project was so successful; it was then rolled out to other vulnerable populations across the globe, most recently in Lebanon and now Jordan.

The scheme was inaugurated by France’s Ambassador to Jordan, Caroline Dumas, and President of Libraries without Borders, Patrick Weil at an opening ceremony in Azraq camp this week.

“Life in a refugee camp can be very boring. But with the ideas box the community is connecting, playing, learning and creating,” Patrick Weil said.

“As well as giving families a chance for creative recreation, teachers and community groups will be able to take advantage of the resources too.”

The resources are housed in a community centre at the heart of the camp. Other NGOs are already working within the space, which meant it was a good place for the sharing ideas and utilising resources. In Azraq, the special box has 25 ebooks, 25 tablets and 10 laptops. A whole computer lab is being set up for the community.

The books include Arabic literature classics, fiction, non-fiction, poetry and international books translated into Arabic. Picture books are important too, an opening for not only children, but also adults learning to read.

Libraries without Borders worked with regional experts from the educational and cultural sector in Lebanon, Jordan and Syria to decide which educational and cultural material to put into the box. They designed guidelines for each content and selected the items according to the context.

The Alexander Soros Foundation is supporting the scheme and United Nations Agency for Refugees (UNHCR) and the NGO CARE have partnered up with Libraries without Borders to implement to idea. CARE will look after the day-to-day running of the project.