The first impression I get from Azraq refugee camp is very different to Zaatari. There is no town nearby; it is in the pure desert and, whereas the shelters are newer and bigger, the lack of personal belongings gives it a very depressed atmosphere.
We arrive in the afternoon and will stay longer into the night to see the huge positive impact the solar street lighting has on the quality of daily life for the refugees. One of the two currently inhabited villages in the camp has the street lights (otherwise the camp has no electricity!). When we take a stroll in the camp village after sunset, a mother with a child in her arms literally says, “This light has made our life so much better.” This short comment alone makes me even more determined to spread the word back at home and to sell thousands of LED light bulbs next year!!!
For the inside of the shelters, all families are given two photovoltaic-powered lamps. The second type, being more advanced in technology and being equipped with a USB charging device, was also bought by funds provided by the IKEA Foundation. I begin to understand the importance of electricity for the camp and hope that all goes well with the building of the solar power plant.
And then we are invited to the shelter of “Mr. Einstein”. The husband and father of a family fleeing from Homs has only completed the 6th grade and then worked as a plumber and electrician, but his ability to build things from the more than limited resources blew our minds away. Besides constructing furniture and other small items to make the shelter more cosy and comfortable, he also had built a wind turbine to get electricity! Unfortunately, it broke in a storm about two months ago. But Mr. Einstein is not frustrated; he is actually in the process of building himself a new and even bigger one! After meeting with him, we are deeply convinced he will succeed.
Shortly afterwards, back out in the open in the beam of the streetlights, we are as always surrounded by dozens of children. We communicate with them by gestures, when all of a sudden a boy aged 15 years talks to us in good English. Upon request, he tells us he learned English at school back in Damascus and now continues here at the school in the camp. We are very glad to meet him and tell him so, as unfortunately only about 35% of all the many kids in the camp attend school. We encourage him to talk to all his friends to join him for school, knowing that they won’t have much of a future without a good education. We sincerely hope that UNHCR in cooperation with UNICEF, will be able to figure out the reasons for the low school attendance and will find effective measures to overcome them.