Fostering Productive Potential in Refugee Camps

Young men and construction materials

Thanks for sharing, @Tomma , and welcome to Edgeryders. This was really inspiring!

Exactly the same point about young men not being catered to was made by @Alex_Levene in the context of The Jungle. We have been fantasizing about “emergent” refugee camps being made of only a welcome committee, fast Internet and construction material; the newcomers themselves would build what they need.

However, authorities really dislike (one could almost say fear) such an outcome. Interesting stuff was built and deployed in The Jungle (even a theatre!), but then the people in charge started searching incoming vehicles for construction material. It was completely disallowed to bring anything to make anything into the camp.

How is the situation in Berlin?

thanks for the feedback!


These are exactly the questions we are dealing with right now. We started off with honeycomb cardboard as you see on the pictures because its very easy to work with even if you dont have proffessional tools. The Problem though: it´s not long lasting. The stuff we build with the the refugees about a month ago is already loosing its shape.

Thats why we´re currently working on prototyse out of chipwood tied together with cable ties. two cheap materials that you can get everywhere. The only tool needed is a drilling machine. One Set of wood panels can be assembled in three different ways according to the needs. The cable ties can be opened if the people want to build something else.

How can we make it personal though? Are people still motivated if every Box looks the same in the end?


The Camp we are working in, is quite open. As long as its not dangerous in any ways people can bring whatever they want.

That seems to be another Problem: every camp has different rules, so its almost impossible to find a general context.

Making personalized design

@Tomma first off: congrats for completing the course work, @Nadia was nice to give me a small update and I’m happy for you guys and hope you’ll continue on this road of very thoughtful design!

For ever new, exciting and personalized design, did you try talking to commercial furniture designers or the like… a company that could help take this even forward somehow? Or maybe the team at ROC21 can help?

This is a handmade table produced by the roma community living on the outskirts of my hometown, in a rubish dump <sigh>. The table was purchased by a hip bar downtown (I think that at an auction…) and is currently under great use. Photo from Made in Pata Rat facebook page. I will see if I can get in touch with someone who can better report on this story.

Some technical ideas

If you want to personalize with few resources - try making your own paint. I recommend you use non-toxic pigment (and still use masks - just to spread awareness), and there are a bunch of non-toxic to fairly harmless liquids to mix stuff into (e.g linseed oil*). You can get a lot done with mortar and pestle for personalization scale.

Other things that help are fabrics with nice haptic properties (you can sew together patch-work style). Needle skills are nice to have anyway if you want/have to live low budget. Just make sure you get good thread. Fabric will also improve overall acoustics.

Pull broken head-phones out of the trash and fix them (9/10 are broken at the jack, you can fix them with almost nothing, if you are good you can re-use the solder that is already on them. Then you only need a lighter/candle and e.g. some liquid adhesive and string to fix things permanently. A quiet atmosphere and my (home) sounds around me help my mood a lot.

LEDs are another option for color personalization instead of paint. If you DIY, just make sure you understand what resistor you need. You will need one unless you do plug in LED-bands which are relatively expensive (but still not bad, you could also cannibalize them). If treated right LEDs will last forever though.

*Not sure how well that works on particle board though. Epoxy is the solution that will always work (and can also be used to fix a lot of other stuff) but is potentially somewhat toxic, moderately expensive (if you buy a big just past shelf life bucket), and needs some know-how and tools to avoid a utter uncleanable mess. Hit me if you want more details.

Repair Café?

You could host a RC and perhaps keep some of the pieces for parts and training. Of course you can also encourage people to donate some semi-working things or decent enough tools (no one should work with shit tools!)

Hey @Tomma - I’m really glad to see such a constructive idea being realized in Berlin. It’s absolutely essential for a myriad of reasons. I was also wondering lately if you thought of taking similar activity one step further and creating sort of economy inside the temporary shelters/housing - so that the produce of the inhabitants could be sold outside, either as affordable fixes for the houses, or maybe as crafts, if higher quality materials were provided?

Well done, very proud of you

@Tomma, @dennis, @simon.messmer and Liza. We are now starting to push this out and having discussions with a number of foundations, Charities  etc ahead of the #OPENandChange fundraising tour which includes a workshop in Berlin.

It’s starting to get interesting :slight_smile:

Thanks for the feedback!

Hey everyone! We´re really happy about the feedback! thanks a lot :slight_smile:

From September i´ll be working at the ROC21 Project ( As I already gained a little bit experience at the SAVA project, they asked me to be part of the Team. I´m looking forward to that, because now we can think in bigger scales. We will try to build up a community inside the camp, where everyone is an active part. Thinks like an Urban Garden on top of the building or an actual woodworkshop are under discussion. But there are a lot of issues to face, for example how to motivate people @Natalia_Skoczylas it could go in that direction. Would be great to find some kind of reward for peoples work, even if it´s not money. I´ll keep you guys updated!

Besides that we still want to realise our modular furniture system at the ICC Berlin. The Malteser are very interested too and already said that 30 of them will be there and help with the workshop! We might get a sponsorship, but it would still be great if we could raise the money via our startnext Campaign. We´re still happy about support :)!

Also the ROC21 Project will benefit from the experience we´ll make at the Workshop.

Very promising start!

A #win already…  Congrats for the future work!

Will try to give your start next campaign an even bigger push over the next weeks,  well done!

Continue and learn yourself some programming skills :slight_smile:

Dear lovely people :slight_smile:

We started to create an online curriculum that can teach you programming and goes from “what’s a browser” to “how to build an app”. It’s free and you can have online chat support and if you happen to be in berlin, on tuesdays and fridays you can have face2face support at a local meetup :-)

In the future you will be equipped to start your self employed career - either by bootstrapping your own app/company or working as a freelance developer for agencies/clients/customer or whatever else you have in mind. You can work from anywhere if you have a laptop with an internet connection.


  1. The Curriculum…

  1. The Support Chat

  1. The regular berlin bases support face2face meetup

Don’t count on the government to magically create jobs. Get yourself some digital skills and start RIGHT NOW! :-)

Hope to see some of you people in the chat or in person at one of our regular meetups :slight_smile:

Nice, also if you want to do engineering…

Get some fairly decent CAD skills without the cost. And share some of what you make with the rest of us. allows CAD straight from the browser (of a decent computer or notebook). Check out who is behind it, those are some of the CAD Urgestein folks, and everything is fully legit.

Yes, it is a free/commercial program, but currently the deal is extremely fair.

Here is the nuts % bolts video, it is not exactly easy to learn from 0 with 0 help though:

Learn to write the wikipedia?

I’ve made a draft outline for a German centered effort to do this with the help of the refugees:

Arabic Wikipedia with Refugee Help

(download and rename to .pdf - I could not upload easily otherwise)

Hmm… didn’t work :frowning:

PM me if you are interested.


hello @serapath!

Thanks for sharing!

what you’re doing it’s really interesting! I would like to know something more… how many refugees are already involved? Which are the main results? Refugees need to have particular skills to start?

great :slight_smile:


We currently have around a half a dozen refugees involved in our e-learning program that actually learn and some more in the community, but we are pre-launch.

The platform has already ~400 refugees signed up and regular activity.

Refugees dont need any skills to start. we start with “whats a browser” and “how to create an email account” and progress to how to build your own web app over the course of ~120 videos for now. More will follow soon to diversify what can be learned.

The main results are refugees who started to build their portfolio pages and now know some programming and design. Other results include refugees who managed to get in contact with locals for paid gigs and/or voluntary activities to get to know locals.

“Work is the best pathway to connect newcomers with locals”

Nice to meet you @serapath, and what a good match with Franca.

She was saying elsewhere, in her own words, that language is key to connect newcomers to the new setting, but also arguing for activities like the ones you propose. Do you manage to break throguh the language barrier, or have people helping with that? Either way, well done, it seems there’s a lot you have going on and quite some activity (checked your live chat, great one hehe).

we dont encounter language barriers

They all seem to speak english.

Sometimes we have beginners, but we have other refugees around who help out.

…at least when it comes to teaching and IT skills.

Sadly, in germany many people do not speak english well and feel very uncomfortable when speaking it, so they rather dont speak it and

send everyone who doesnt speak good german home.

We hope teaching digital skills will help them find remote jobs or real jobs abroad.

Now I am also here


I also joined the discussion. Will try to describe how we started and what we are doing a bit more in details and will send it to you as soon as possible. Like the community here. Will check and read about the projects and share them with the world :slight_smile:

MA, Studienfach Migration und Diversität in CAU

If you are interested, there is now University program called “Migration and Diversity” in this University:

I found that out when discussing things with the people who help out at a refugee center close to there. There ought to be some mutual interest in some of the activities… apparently it is a new thing - so there is probably a lot of learning for everyone involved.

Submit to Idea Camp 2017 ?

The Eur Cultural Foundation has a yearly programme for grassroots initiatives and a call for next year closing on Sep 20. The topic is “Moving Communities”. @Tomma I thought you guys might be interested:


This is really nice to hear. Was just talking with 2 of my Syrian friends and they said it’s very important to give some self inniciative push to the newcomers, because they are just being sent from a place to a place to fill this or that form and they become somehow passive, so helping them stay active and creative is super important. Like your approach a lot.

I am working on this project  and would like to see how we could collaborate. Maybe you could introduce them to online platfrom for connecting to other newcomers that are here a bit longer and are starting with their self employment or small business and need volunteers or potencial partners… or they can maybe see what are local businesses searching here, to get a better feeling of what is smart to focus on for the future and what skills will they need to learn in order to build a nice future for themselves.

Please, if you have time, check a bit what we do and I would be happy if we find some common points for collaboration :slight_smile: