Did you know it’s possible to grow plants in sand and gravel with nutrients but without soil? It’s called hydroponics, and it is one of the many important projects happening in Azraq refugee camp, located in Jordan on hot desert terrain, where over 53,000 displaced people of the Syrian civil war are sheltered. 

A Syrian refugee family in the Azraq camp, northern Jordan  (by DFID - UK)

A Syrian refugee family in the Azraq camp, northern Jordan (by DFID – UK)

With funding from the World Food Programme, the French civil society non-governmental organization, ACTED Jordan, has installed hydroponics systems to teach the refugees climate-smart agricultural practices and give them work in the camp. This initiative provides those involved in the project with sustainable income, basic business-skill development to grow and sell fresh animal fodder, and market connections with local farmers, offering them a nutritious, local food source.

Azraq camp this year also became the first refugee camp in the world to be powered by renewable energy. The UN refugee agency UNHCR reported in May that two solar photovoltaic plants “provide clean energy free of charge to some 20,000 Syrian refugees living in shelters that have been linked up to the electricity grid since January”. The grid will be expanded to the entire camp soon. This means that now the people have light and can buy refrigerators, washing machines and electric fans, making life in the camp more bearable. The plants were funded by the IKEA Foundation’s Brighter Lives for Refugees campaign.

UNICEF_FLAGAnother phenomenal development in the camp is the launch of innovation labs there, supported by UNICEF Innovation and implemented by partner organizations. Young innovators and future entrepreneurs are creating and presenting their inventive ideas to solve some of the refugees most pressing needs. 

Three girls, for example, used a piece of iron, a pen, a jar, part of a water bottle, a battery and a toy car motor to make a food blender. At first that may not sound like an important idea, but in fact mashed foods allow infants to eat more healthily and increase food variety through purees and sauces. 

UNICEF also reported that “Among the inventions engineered by the youth are solar-powered phone chargers, water distilleries and reading lamps, a gas-powered oven, winter rugs, an ice box and medicine cooler [made] out of recycled materials, and two types of laundry machines.”

As significant as these devices are in this environment, what’s truly remarkable is that the innovation labs enable the young people to think creatively about problems affecting their community, to “build something out of nothing” and, crucially, to grow in the esteem of family and community members. Not only are they learning creativity and trades, they are becoming tomorrow’s positive change-makers despite all.