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Refugee Open Ware Wants MakerSpaces and 3D Printing to Help the Syrian Refugee Crisis

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Refugee Open Ware

Regardless of the political rhetoric and bickering over how to respond to it, there is an undeniable crisis in Syria that only seems to be getting worse. As the civil war continues, and with Russian bombs dropping, hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians continue to pour out of a nation torn apart by civil war and into often less than hospitable neighboring countries and the uncertainty of refugee camps. Conditions in the camps are, to put it lightly, less than ideal. The lack of fresh water and food is a constant struggle, while overcrowding often leaves many families, including their children, lacking even the barest of shelter or accommodations.

With 800,000 refugees, Jordan is one of the countries that has been hit hardest by the massive exodus of refugees from Syria. Refugee Open Ware (ROW) is a Jordanian startup that is hoping the principles of makerspaces can help alleviate the strain, improve conditions in refugee camps all over the world and give refugees valuable skills that they can take back with them when they are eventually able to return home. The concept is to bring popup FabLabs to active war and refugee zones and teach locals to ‘hack’ what supplies and materials they have on hand and turn them into the materials and tools that they need.

Refugee Open Ware founders Dave Levin and Loay Malahmeh at FabLab Amman.

Refugee Open Ware founders Dave Levin and Loay Malahmeh at FabLab Amman. [Image: Jahd Khalil]

The startup was launched last year and has grown into a virtual consortium of like-minded individuals, companies and corporations who are pitching in together to help. Everyone from the FabFoundation to Ultimaker to ColorFabb to dozens of humanitarian organizations and even Jordan’s leadership the Royal Hashemite Court have come together — all in service of helping ROW’s founders Dave Levin and Loay Malahmeh build their first Innovation Center in Jordan’s capital city, Amman.

“Much of what we’re doing is trying to disrupt the whole nature of humanitarian relief, of civil defense, perhaps of warfare itself. The whole idea with the democratization of production, which is the main characteristic of the next industrial revolution, is that anyone can get access to these advanced manufacturing tools,” Levin told Popular Science.

The massive Zaatari refugee camp will hopefully soon have its own makerspace.

The massive Zaatari refugee camp will hopefully soon have its own makerspace.

The 500-square-meter innovation center will eventually become FabLab Amman, and be a community space with the tools and supplies to help anyone make their own technology, and create solutions to unique problems found in war zones and refugee camps. The Amman innovation center is currently open to anyone and has already been used by refugees, educators, students and entrepreneurs alike. The eventual goal of the innovation center is to act as a model that can be cheaply and quickly put in place in other areas, and Levin and Malahmeh have already started working on two new locations. They are opening a second location in Amman and another in the northern city of Irbid near the Zaatari refugee camp, currently hosting between 80,000 and 100,000 refugees. They also want to open up a FabLab inside of the Zaatari camp itself, but are currently working out the details with the Jordanian government.

The FabLabs will be fully stocked with a wide rage of equipment, including everything from basic tools to 3D printers, soldering irons, inexpensive electronic components and computers. The hope is that they can help solve many problems experienced at the camps, such as repairing damaged tools and components, printing replacement parts and even new tools for tasks that they didn’t even know they needed. But it can also teach the refugees the skills to open up their own FabLabs and deal with the realities of (hopefully) returning to a home that was turned into a war zone. Obviously tools and equipment will be in short supply, so reusing or repurposing what is available will be a necessity, and the makerspaces can help with the process of cleaning up and rebuilding their homes and lives.

Inside the FabLab Amman.

Inside the FabLab Amman. [Image: Jahd Khalil]

Naturally the problem of unexploded ordnance is going to be an issue in Syria for years to come, and a makerspace is an ideal location to workshop and build solutions. Locals can 3D print inexpensive replicas of the unexploded ordnance to help train the teams who will be disarming and removing them. They can also assemble devices that will help people detect and avoid any unexploded bombs. With the tools available to them in a makerspace it would even be possible to develop web apps that people can use to tag locations of unexploded bombs so teams can come in and remove them without having to extensively search the area.

It is cheaper to design, develop and fabricate both high-tech and low-tech solutions to virtually any problem imaginable than it has ever been before. A makerspace has the potential to help change the world in unimaginable ways. Having a space that is designed for crowdsourcing solutions and full of inexpensive fabrication tools can offer wounded communities the ability to put their lives back together one step at a time. If you’d like to learn more about ROW you can read the great write up about them in Popular Science here. And if you would like to offer help, assistance or donate to their organization you can visit their website here. Tell us your thoughts regarding this powerful new program in the ROW Creates 3D Makerspaces for Refugees forum over at

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