How the power of the sun is changing lives

Today, we visited the city of Irbid, next to the border of Syria. In this city, there is a UNHCR registration centre for refugees. Besides that, the IKEA Foundation has started supporting a new project in this region. It is called Renewable Energy for Refugees.

We left our apartment around 9:00. The sun was already burning upon us and the sounds of the mosque danced trough the streets. Abdullah, our driver, started the engine and we started our day. After 1.5 hours we arrived in Irbid. Irbid is a city with 250,000 inhabitants. At the border of the city, we reached our first stop. This stop is the UNHCR registration centre.

When we got out of the car, we immediately saw a row of people standing outside in the sun. They were waiting for their appointment. We were told that these people just stand there and wait. Some more than a few hours and with a chance that they could not be helped. I stood for just for 10 minutes outside and I was already sweating. I wondered what all those people must have felt.

After a small briefing about the registration centre, we went back to our cars. We did not have much time here in the centre. To be honest, I did not mind it because I felt sorry for all those people standing in the sun, when we could walk straight through.

As we waited for the rest of our group to walk back to the car, a man approached us. This man was a Syrian refugee who was waiting for his appointment in the centre. He asked us what we were doing. I understood that it could raise some question marks, a few people walking around and looking at everything. We explained what we were doing there but he immediately stopped us. He really did not care about our story. He wanted to tell us his. So, we gave him the opportunity to tell us some more about himself.

We only saw the man for a few moments, because we had to leave, but in that few seconds he told us that in Syria he was a very rich man. He had left everything behind and was now waiting for his papers. He was not angry, but you could understand that he was disappointed in his country. Besides that, he said that the UNHCR people are not able to help them all. Unfortunately, he is right.

Renewable Energy for Refugees project. Photo by Brian Pauw.

After the experience at the registration centre, we went downtown. In Irbid we visited a family who has already met with the new project, Renewable Energy for Refugees. This project is in collaboration with Norwegian Refugee Council.

In my opinion, this is one of the most life-changing projects that we do. But what is it? A group of refugees who live in the city are selected to receive a sun boiler. The selection process is very tough and you only get it, if you really, really need it. This panel converts cold water in to warm water using sunlight.

In this way, the people who live in the building use less gas. This will save them around a third of their monthly energy bill. Can you imagine what you could do with the extra cash in a month?

The family we met spends every month 60 Jordanian dinars (€74) on their energy bill. When the sun boilers are in place, they will save the family 20 Jordanian dinars (€25) each month. That does not sound like much but for this family it means a lot. With that money they can send their kids to school and buy some extra food. It is amazing what a little bit of sunlight can do, isn’t it?

    Jos van Weeren