Obviously the onlyy truly perfect ‘solution’ to the problems experienced by refugees is to create a way in which they never have to become refugees in the first place. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be on the horizon and in the meantime we live in a world in which refugees are living in their temporary resettlement locations for generations. According to Kilian Kleinschmidt, a leading authority on humanitarian aid, one of the problems is the very conceptualization of these camps as temporary. In an interview with Dezeen, he explained his position:
“These are the cities of tomorrow. The average stay today in a camp is 17 years. That’s a generation. In the Middle East, we were building camps: storage facilities for people. But the refugees were building a city…We’re doing humanitarian aid as we did 70 years ago after the second world war. It’s down to the stupidity of the aid organizations, who prefer to waste money and work in a non-sustainable way rather than investing in making them sustainable.”
One piece of the puzzle that certainly wasn’t available 70 years ago is the capacity that 3D printing holds for production. And it is Kleinschmidt’s strongly held opinion that any system that is being used to deal with current issues cannot responsibly be said to be doing all that it can to address a problem. Over the past years, he has been working to set up a Fab Lab in Zaatari, a refugee camp in Jordan, but it is a slow process.
“It’s not there yet,” Kleinschmidt said of the Fab Lab, “because it’s very problematic to convince people that this is the right way for refugees to be ’empowered’ – to do something that actually belongs to the rich and beautiful and very connected people. That whole concept that you can connect a poor person with something that belongs to the 21st century is very alien to even most aid agencies. Intelligence services and so on from government think ‘my god, these are just refugees, so why should they be able to do 3D printing? Why should they be working on robotics?’ The idea is that if you’re poor, it’s all only about survival.”
He is touching on something that I and my colleagues and students, in interior design, have known for years. The creation of home is key to psychological well-being and the idea that survival is only physical — meaning sufficient water, food, and shelter from the elements — ignores the basic humanity of the people living in refugee camps. Our lived experiences all involve the creation and maintenance of a ‘nest’ and yet that is the first thing we overlook when approaching assistance as a gesture rather than a process.
“With a Fab Lab people could produce anything they need, a house, a car, a bicycle, generating their own energy, whatever. We call it Beyond Survival [which] deals with the psyche of people…I mean the Syrians, for their wellbeing, they need a fountain and a birdcage and a plant and they need to sit next to the fountain to drink tea. That’s their expression of home. So everybody at Zaatari was building fountains,” he explained.
After 25 years of working for the United Nations and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, Kleinschmidt became disillusioned with traditional humanitarian responses because of its static nature and condescending approach. He left his post in the United Nations in order to start his own aid consultancy called Switxboard.
With the realization that these refugee ‘crises’ are long term, a new approach is required and education is an important component of that re-envisioning. For example, according the statistics released on November 12 by the United States Department of Labor, there are currently 5.5 million job openings and, according to the Society for Human Resource Management it is going to get even more difficult to fill positions in the year to come. What this means is that there is a great deal of room in this country for more people and empowering those people to participate rather than relegating them to the permanently-temporary fringes not only benefits refugees but the countries to which they have fled as well.
Maybe, as part of the reconceptualization in conjunction with the possibilities provided by 3D printing, we can stop looking at people as problems to be solved and start seeing each person for the opportunities s/he represents. Discuss this story in the Humanitarian Aid forum thread on 3DPB.com.