Refugees escaping humanitarian crises have critical immediate needs such as access to food and clean water, shelter, and health care. Once those needs are adequately being addressed, the refugees may find themselves in camps for months, if not years. Other needs soon emerge such as the need to access information and to express themselves creatively.
A new project called Ideas Box seeks to engage refugees by providing the necessary tools, content, and resources to “read, write, create, and communicate.” Launched by the organization Libraries without Borders (LWB) in collaboration with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the Ideas Box is a self-contained system that can be unpacked in less than 20-minutes providing the community access to 15 tablets, 4 laptop computers that can access the Internet via a satellite connection, 50 e-readers, a movie projector with screen, as well as tables and chairs. Free content is also included with 5,000 e-books and 100 films available to users of the Ideas Box. Offline content can also be accessed in the form of Wikipedia, Khan Academy, and other e-learning tools providing courses on coding and computer programming.
In this short video, LWB staff unpack and assemble the Ideas Box:
There is also a strong focus on creation, with tools such as HD cameras and hand-held GPS units that encourage the community to create their own films, photographs, and participatory maps.
The first deployment of the Ideas Box took place in refugee camps in Burundi in February 2014, with plans to deploy in Jordan and Lebanon in Syrian refugee camps. This video focuses on the Burundi deployment:
Early reports on the deployment have been documented on the Ideas Box blog, where the site coordinators share their experiences interacting and engaging the local community. In Burundi, Benjamin shares that over 1,000 users have taken advantage of these resources in the first month. He summarizes the typical users in the Burundi camp:
Thirty 10-year old children who laugh enthusiastically in front of the cartoon “Kirikou”; two 50-year olds who discover the tablets; men who come in daily to read about the history of the Congo; students who come 2 hours per day to take notes and prepare for their classes; young girls who spend their day reading books and watching at videos; 4th graders who come together after school to go work on their grammar or their African geography with great concentration…and all the other hundred of refugees who come and observe with curiosity…the refugees have no difficulty taking ownership of the Ideas Box.