How innovation can change lives

There are two main challenges for refugee families in Jordan: searching for a home to live and making sure that their children continue their studies. That’s what we learnt during our visits to Irbid and Azraq refugee camp, where the IKEA Foundation, in partnership with other organisations, is developing innovative projects through renewable energy.

IWitness group visiting the UNHCR offices in Irbid, a village to the north of Jordan. Photo by Laura Escalante.

Searching for a house is not easy and the rentals are higher than expected for refugees, even more so because most of them don’t have regular incomes.

That’s why the UNHCR registration sites we visited in Irbid and Amman are so important for the refugees. They are responsible for protecting and offering so many services to them: security, health access, education and sometimes access to cash assistance.

This cash assistance programme is focused on giving help to the most vulnerable refugee families. This money helps them afford the rent for a home and maintain their families when they are established in Jordan.

UNHCR registration centre in Amman. Photo by Ana Lorenzo.

But families face so many problems to live and the money they receive is not enough. That’s why the IKEA Foundation is funding the Nordic Refugee Council (NRC) and other partners to set up renewable energy projects for households and public schools in Jordan.

This programme is called RE4R (Renewal Energy for Refugees) and focuses on two main environments:

  • public schools—saving money through solar panels, reducing their electricity bills
  • households—helping the most vulnerable families by installing solar water heating systems.
UNHCR team explaining to us how the solar water heating system works in a household in Irbid. Photo by Laura Escalante.

But where I really learn how important light is to live is in the Azraq refugee camp. There we have the opportunity to visit the solar panel installation funded by the IKEA Foundation, so crucial for refugees’ lives.

When renewable energy arrived in the camp, it was a revolution and a fundamental change in the dynamic of life in the camp. The refugees developed some shops and businesses; outside there is lighting system, while inside the tents the families can have a TV, connect an air conditioning system or have a washing machine, which makes their lives better and easier.

But Azraq camp is huge and there was no light in some tents at night. That’s why the solar panel installation has been extended. We were lucky to be able to attend to the inauguration.

This means that light will be a reality in all the camp areas. We were witnesses to the incredible engineering work and its impact in the refugees’ lives during our visit to the lighted and not lighted tents (homes).

Solar panel installation at Azraq camp, funded by the IKEA Foundation. Photo by Laura Escalante.

I visited a lighted home. They were an almost complete family: parents, four children and the grandmother. They escaped from Syria when the war started and they’ve been living in the camp for six years. Their lives have 100% changed with the light: no more hand-washing, they have an air conditioning system for summer time, they can heat water if their children are ill, and, something they say which surprises me: they can see each other faces during the night.

The feeling of happiness in this house was contagious. Their hospitality made me feel as if I were in my own home, enjoying a good conversation and laughing with the children.

They told us that the light is so important to study. The girl, whose name in Arabic means “dreams”, showed used us all her study books and told us that she would like to be a policewomen to help people. I can never forget her passion for learning, her kindness and her smile. And the best gift she gave us: a big hug at the end.

Light changed refugees’ lives and this hug changed me!

Idoia and Laura from the IKEA Spain team talking with children in a tent in Azraq camp. Photo by UNHCR.