The population of Jordan’s second biggest city Zarqa has doubled within the past six years due to immigration from neighboring Syria and Palestine. The Zarqa Community Centre is one of the very few child friendly spaces in this area. Within this centre, ACT-member Lutheran World Federation (LWF) ran an Innovation Lab which enabled Syrian and Jordanian youth to develop creative solutions in a diverse team environment. It also delivered protection and social cohesion.
The Zarqa Community Centre opened its doors in October 2019 as one of three such institutions operated by LWF Jordan. It promotes social cohesion among Syrian and Jordanian youth and empowers them as leaders in their communities.
All three LWF youth centres address the psychosocial needs of refugee and host community children and their caregivers, with comprehensive programming including structured psychosocial support, recreational activities, and life skill development.
Youth Innovation Lab-Criteria for Selection
The participants of the Innovation Lab were selected using vulnerability criteria developed in collaboration with the local Youth Association for Self-Development (YASD) which also provided community outreach activities. Collaborating with Humanity and Inclusion, another local organization, LWF made sure that at least five people with disabilities were part of the group, with appropriate accommodations being made to ensure full participation.
Introduction to design thinking
The Innovation Lab was implemented by LWF in three cycles, each with a two-month duration. The Syrian and Jordanian youth participated in 12 group training sessions where they applied elements of design thinking. “It was not an easy week, as it was difficult to find good material for the initial idea and to propose it to the community,” summarised 12 year-old Khaled from Syria who participated.
In the final stages of the training cycle, the youth developed an action plan and a budget for their innovations and presented their plan to an evaluation panel from the local Youth Association for Self-Development (YASD), local businesses, and local school administrations. The evaluation panel awarded sub-grants totaling $1,500 per cycle to pilot innovations. The innovations had to address issues related to community safety, gender equality, the environment, livelihoods, health and nutrition, or community leadership and governance.
Participants during the project presentations (screenshots from video Daham Alhamad/LWF)
Many new ideas
“I wanted to help people with disabilities, as I saw the difficulties of a blind man in the neighborhood every day,” says Hajras whose family came to Zarqa from Syria in 2013. Contrary to some of the other participants, Hajras worked alone on his project at the Innovation Lab: a device called “smart hand”, preserving the health of the blind and visually impaired by alerting them of obstacles in front of them by buzzer and vibration. The young inventor got advice from his project trainer, Muhammad, as well as technical support. He plans to further develop and improve the device, adding extra features in the future.
Another group of young people successfully worked on a similar “attention project”, a device to preserve the health of the blind by alerting them if there is any obstacle in front of them.
Solutions for real problems
14- and 15 year-olds Sundus and Amina from Syria meanwhile focused on developing a container that separates metal from other waste. “We wanted to improve the recycling approach and reduce the waste developing green initiative”, said Amina.
15 year-old Layan from Jordan had the idea to supply heaters with sensors after a lot of fires in her neighborhood: An alarm would warn people of danger when the percentage of harmful gases – and thus of fire and suffocation – rises.
Finally, 12 year-old Khaled from Syria created a mobile device which uses solar energy to heat food. All these works won a prize at the Innovation Lab carried out from May to October 2020.
Of course, the outbreak of the COVID-pandemic complicated things also for this project. The young participants due to the pandemic were not used to speaking in front of an audience. Therefore, they were very nervous before presenting their projects to the community. However, like all the projects of former Innovation Labs, the 2020 edition generated many useful and practical ideas to improve life in their community.
No child-friendly world
Access to child friendly spaces and community centres is limited, with Zarqa having just two community centres for a population of over 1.3 million people. The public education sector is struggling to accommodate the needs of 230,000 Syrian school-aged children. These infrastructure shortcomings contribute to an acute need for child and youth friendly spaces, particularly for accessing psychosocial support, recreational activities, and life skills development.
Insecure prospects for the future
The future of the Innovation Lab project is not secure due to a lack of funding. “We have the full experience to implement the project. The final evaluation started at the end of March 2021. Personally, I would recommend extending this project for at least one year. But unfortunately, the funding issues are out of our hands”, says Islam Shdefat, Programme Manager of the three camps run by LWF. “We also have a collaboration with the National Ministry of Youth. They will join us for the final evaluation, and they were part of the selection. We made our best for this project to have a long-term impact”, she states.
Video: Find here a video on the project, produced by Mr. Daham Alhamad.
Hajras Attia, winner of the first place, and one of the trainers with his project. Pictures of all the winners can be found on Facebook (photos LWF).