Sunset in Azraq: watching the camp light up

Our agenda on Thursday started at lunch time and so we had a possibility to finalise our blogs and sort all our pictures. We were excited to see more of crucial help that UNHCR provides in Jordan. After a short lunch at the local falafel bistro, the next visit could go on.

Azraq, the second biggest refugee camp, is located in between Syria and Saudi Arabia. Our trip there from Amman took approximately two hours. The camp is divided in districts or villages. There are 35,000 refugees (57% of whom are kids) currently living in the camp but its capacity can extend up to 120,000 people, depending on the situation around the borders with Syria.
Today, refugees receive the equivalent of €25 per person per month in the form of an electronic voucher, which can be used to buy a food from the camp supermarket. Payment is done by eye (iris) scan to avoid any misuse and help to act more effectively.

Azraq camp – by Philipp Knöbl

A new water supply system (600m deep!) allows for more water pick-up points and brings water closer to all the camp’s inhabitants.

The highlight of the camp is a solar power plant, funded by the IKEA Foundation. All the shelters in Villages 3 and 6 have been connected to the grid, providing sustainable electricity to over 15.000 refugees. Each shelter has an allowance of 1kWh per day—enough power for all everyday operations. The plan is to connect all villages by 2018. From the beginning of the solar project, a big team of refugees was deeply involved; a team of Syrian specialists (refugees) are also today a crucial part of total project implementation and more than proud about their solar electricity. “We want to thank you—all co-workers at IKEA and the IKEA Foundation—for this great support,” was the honest message we were asked to bring home with us and share with all people in our home countries.

IWitnesses from IKEA Austria by the solar power plant, funded by the IKEA Foundation – by Philipp Knöbl

IWitnesses walking around the solar plant – by Philipp Knöbl

We visited the hospital where they provide all common services in very small space, 24 hours a day. For difficult treatments, people are transported into the city. The most impressive part was the maternity ward, where about 34 kids are born in a week.

Visit to the hospital – by Philipp Knöbl

Azraq market is very different to the Zaatari market. In Azraq, the market area is more structured and smaller, but still they provide all needed goods and services. For example, we visited a pastry shop where we were invited to taste typical Arabic sweets, which were delicious.
We were told by different shop owners that the average income here in the market area is about 200 JDs. Due to the fact that the market area is kind of a meeting place, too, we saw many children enjoying ice cream, which was not possible when they had no electricity.

Taste Arabic sweets – by Philipp Knöbl

Our next stop was the high point, just before sunset. We watched the lights go on. Children were playing outside all the time—they feel safe. Before they had streetlights it was impossible to let them play outside after sunset.

Watching the sunset – by Philipp Knöbl

Together with the children – by Philipp Knöbl

After we witnessed the camp light up, we said goodbye to the kids and drove to our first home visit of the day. The first family we visited has their home located in district number 6 of the camp, which means that they have access to electricity.

Electricity in the camp – by Philipp Knöbl

The family—father, mother and their four children, of whom three are going to school—fled from the suburbs of Damascus in 2011 and arrived in the camp in 2014, after a few stopovers in different shelters. The father works in a workshop in the camp, where he helps with expanding the homes of the refugees with porches and kitchens. After listening to their whole story, and drinking some homemade berry juice, we left and drove to the second family.

Home visit to family – by Philipp Knöbl

This family—father mother and three children—are living in a district with no electricity. It was already dark, so we sat together in a hazy light. It was around 9pm and the children were tired already. We talked about the life of the family when they were in Syria. The father worked as a shoemaker back in Syria.

Visit to home with no electricity – by Philipp Knöbl

The family fled to Jordan because they didn’t feel safe anymore, but miss their homeland so much. Now they feel safe (during the day). The father told us that he wishes having light too, so the children can play outside in the evening. At least they have solar lamps from UNHCR. We really hope that soon all parts of Azraq camp will have access to electricity.

Light coming from the solar lamp – by Philipp Knöbl

Zataari camp: creativity in adversity

On our third day in Jordan we visited Zaatari, the biggest refugee camp in the Middle East, established in 2012. The camp was built on former olive tree fields and started with only 10 shelters. During the peak of refugee crisis, more than 120,000 people lived here; today 80,000 people have their homes here. The original planned capacity was only 20,000 persons.

Information briefing by UNHCR – by Philipp Knöbl

Our visit started with a short information briefing directly in the UNHCR base camp. The whole camp is divided into 12 districts, recognisable by different themes and colours painted directly on the caravan walls (e.g. space, flowers, fruits) by the refugees themselves. All streets have their own names, chosen by refugees, and all caravans are marked with number.

The camp has its own infrastructure with hospitals and health stations, schools, a Kindergarten, police stations and two big market streets. The biggest market street is called Cham Élysées. (“Cham” is the Arabic word for Damascus, therefore its “cham” not “champs”.) You can find all common shops in these streets; everything you need from top to bottom. We can recommend the restaurant with typical Arabic food, run by the refugees themselves, because during the lunch break we tested the delicious falafels.

Cham Elysee – by Philipp Knöbl

Cham Elysee – by Philipp Knöbl

During our tour, we stopped at an area where the refugees run different projects. We saw workshops where they upcycle different materials to produce new items. For example they sewed clothes and curtains out of old tents. Out of old tent construction material (old metal bars) they produced doors, swings for children and even a rickshaw. They use these projects for education and therapy reasons and everyone profits from the results. We were very impressed by their creativity and the sustainable thoughts behind these projects.

New products from old materials – by Philipp Knöbl

Photo made by Philipp Knöbl

At the viewpoint of the camp, in District 4, we were invited to visit Abuyoussef and his family’s 5m2 home. Abuyoussef fled in 2013 from Daraa, with his wife and two kids, together with his sister and her family. Their trip lasted more than 12 hours. They started in the evening and arrived in Zaatari in the morning. Their caravan is divided into separate areas. One common room, a small kitchen and a toilet (which they got about three months ago).

Abuyoussef and his family – by Philipp Knöbl

Talking with the team – by Philipp Knöbl

Playing baby boy – by Philipp Knöbl

We had the impression that the family is well-adapted to life in the camp and that they are thankful for the infrastructure and service improvements that have happened over the last three years. Abuyoussef’s wife even mentioned that life in the camp somehow reminds her of home, before war began, because here they coincidentally have the same neighbours as in Syria. Abuyoussef’s biggest wish is to spread the message of supporting the refugees in our country and to make people aware of the circumstances they live in.

Photo made by Philipp Knöbl

How UNHCR is helping Syrian refugees living in Amman

We all met at Vienna Airport to start the exciting journey to Jordan. We were supposed to depart at 10:20 AM. Shortly after boarding the captain told us that we had to postpone the start due to technical issues. After this shocking message and almost two hours later, we finally got up in the air.

At the airport of Amman, we got a warm welcome from Jerome of UNHCR and the driver, who were already waiting for us. We were impressed about the modern and western style of the airport and then were overwhelmed due to the heat (approximately 40°C), while getting into our car. On the way to the hotel we drove by the IKEA store of Amman. We really loved seeing “IKEA” in Arabic letters on the walls of the “blue box”.

We arrived at our accommodation and the host directly invited us to a get-together with drinks and finger food.

IWitness Day 2 2017/07/04
We started our day in UNHCR headquarters. We got an introduction about the operations of UNHCR in Jordan from Stefano Severe, UNHCR Country Representative. After that we learned about the cash assistance. UNHCR works with a vulnerability assessment framework to identify the refugees who are in need the most. Once they have identified the refugees who should get the money from the donors, the refugees have access to money without cards, ID, or bank accounts, just with using iris scanning technology.

We visited the biggest registration centre in the whole of the Middle East. The centre is independently operated by UNHCR Jordan, without support from the Jordanian government. It is located in the eastern part of the city where the density of the refugees in the urban areas is the highest.

Visit of UNHCR Registration Center in Amman, waiting area refugees/playground for kids – by Philipp Knöbl

After passing three levels of security checks, we were welcomed by the responsible officers. We were invited to see the whole journey of registration. During a normal day, not less than 3,000 refugees are registered here and, in a peak period like summer, 5,000-7,000 refugees are registered between 8.00am and 4.00pm.

The whole registration centre is staffed by 70 local co-workers covering all functions, including interviewers, security officers, call centre agents, child carers and many more. We were impressed by the high level of engagement and helpfulness of the UNHCR team. In the waiting areas we felt a mixture of moods. Some people tried to express thankfulness for help provided; some were irritated by our presence.

Waiting area by the centre – by Philipp Knöbl

In one of the interview rooms we met a Syrian family from Damascus who were going through the annual refresh of their registration. UNHCR showed us how they use the iris scanning process.

Iris scan – by Philipp Knöbl

After a light lunch in the cafeteria, with special local food, we started with the home visits.

First home visit – by Philipp Knöbl

We drove to an industrial area of the city and entered an old building where a big Syrian family lives; father Hussein, mother Maha and their nine children. This family is receiving cash support from UNHCR and has lived in Amman since 2011. They escaped war to face poverty but are grateful that at least they are safe. Five children attend public school and the school bus costs 75 JDs per month. The oldest son showed us proudly his school report. He loves English and doing sport in school. It was great to see how all of siblings are taking care of each other and even the youngest, a baby.

Children playing in the shelter – by Philipp Knöbl

Sister helping out – by Philipp Knöbl

After that we drove to the second family. They welcomed us into their home, which was completely different from the first one. Mother, father and seven children live in a house with three rooms and a kitchen. The house is located in a quieter area and is in a much better condition than the apartment of the first family. In contrast to the first family, the second does not receive any support from UNHCR yet, because they are still on the waiting list. This is the reason why the father has had to borrow a large amount of money from relatives and friends to get by.

Second family home visit – by Philipp Knöbl

The family told us their story about leaving the suburbs of Aleppo in 2011. Back then, they were living a peaceful life on their little farm, where they cultivated their own vegetables and grains. Their biggest wish is to see their country back in stability and safety and one day to be able to go back to where their roots are.

Photo made by Philipp Knöbl

An interesting aspect is the different experiences of both families on how they are treated by the locals. Some Jordanians are helpful, for example by allowing more time to pay the rent or lending money, while others won’t even greet the refugees.

We left with mixed feelings and drove to our hotel, where we had a short break to refresh, before leaving for IKEA Amman. There we met Carsten, the Store Manager, who invited us to a common dinner at the IKEA restaurant before showing us his store.

Tired and exhausted from the heat and with a lot of new impressions, we finished the day with brainstorming and writing our blog post on the roof terrace of our hotel, while enjoying the view over Amman by night and the taste of fresh sweet dates.

Introductory blog – Jordan 2017

A team of IKEA Austria IWitnesses is travelling to Jordan to meet Syrian families and see first-hand the devastating impact that the war has had on their lives. Joined by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the group will spend three days on an eye-opening journey to witness how funding from the Brighter Lives for Refugees campaign has brought light to homes and communities.

The Syrian conflict started in March 2011, as the pro-democracy protests in the wake of the Arab Spring spiralled into civil war. Seven years into the crisis, hope is fading fast. More than 6 million Syrians have been displaced inside the country and over 5 million have fled Syria, seeking safety in neighbouring countries and beyond.

Your mission is to follow us to one of the largest refugee-hosting countries in the world. Jordan hosts the second-largest number of refugees relative to the size of its population, with one refugee for every 11 inhabitants. Out of a total refugee population of 736,756 people, almost 90% are Syrian.

Jordanians are renowned for opening their arms and homes to those fleeing conflict in the region, but this hospitality and generosity has also come at a price. The influx of refugees puts a huge amount of pressure on a country that is already struggling to support its own population.

The role of UNHCR is to co-ordinate the response, in partnership with the Jordanian government, and provide protection and assistance to those who have fled. The UNHCR team will accompany the IWitnesses during their three-day mission, and ensure they see as much as possible of the work being accomplished.

With 80% of Syrian refugees in Jordan living in urban areas, we will start the trip with a visit to the homes of Syrian families in Amman to understand the challenges that they face day-to-day.

The following two days will be spent visiting refugee camps to understand how they are run and how the teams working in them tackle major challenges—such as access to energy—and find solutions to help the camps’ residents. We will meet families in their shelters and speak to them about their reasons for fleeing, how they are coping with life and how they see their families’ futures.

We will begin with Za’atari, the largest camp for Syrian refugees in Jordan and one of the largest in the world. It currently hosts around 79,900 people, mainly from southern Syria, with the border just 15km away. The bustle of the market street is a welcome respite from the arid desert landscape in which the camp is built.

On the final day, we will head to the Azraq Camp, home to over 35,000 refugees. We will visit the new solar plant, constructed thanks to the support of the IKEA Foundation and the Brighter Lives for Refugees campaign, and which made Azraq the world’s first refugee camp powered by renewable energy. Staying late into the evening, we will witness the solar streetlights slowly lighting up and bringing life to this remote camp after darkness falls.

Our goal is to spend as much time with Syrian families as possible. We will hear, in their words, the struggles they are facing but also see the triumph of the human spirit in times of hardship. The Brighter Lives for Refugees campaign has greatly and positively impacted on the lives of those whom UNHCR helps here in Jordan. It has brought light to families in one of the world’s most difficult environments, allowing them to lead more dignified lives and giving them a sense of home in exile.

Let all children grow up happily under the sunshine

Children are the most important asset in the world. Every child deserves to be educated but, in reality, not everyone gets to enjoy it.

A simple seal game can quickly shorten the distance between IWitness ambassadors and children. Picture by Vivian Cheng.

As an IKEA IWitness ambassador to Yunnan, I was able to see for myself how Save the Children promotes inclusive education.

Can you imagine children with hearing problems or ADHD receiving the same teaching together with other students in the same class? I couldn’t before I saw it for myself. If I were not told by the teacher in advance, I wouldn’t have noticed that there were three children with special needs in the class, including those with learning disabilities.

During the IWitness trip, I was very moved. The direct interaction we had with the children, and my own observations, made me realize that from fellow classmates to teachers and parents, no one was discriminating against the children who have disabilities. Instead, all of them work with the teacher to help, support and embrace these children. That is real inclusion. I believe Save the Children, the schools, teachers and parents must have made unimaginable efforts to achieve such success.

I would like to thank the IKEA Foundation for making donations to help children in the world through its Good Cause campaigns, allowing all children to grow up happily in the sunshine.

Children, diagnosed with ADHD, receive the same quality of education. They learn with other students together. Picture by Vivian Cheng.

Every child deserves to have such a warm smile. Picture by Vivian Cheng.

Together we learn better!!

After listening to Save the Children and Weishan Bureau of Education’s presentation in the morning, the vague idea about this project I had before the trip became clear and real: we’re visiting Dacang Elementary School in Dacang Town. It’s one of the schools which practices inclusive education.

The journey suddenly felt so much longer! Picture by Lara Cheng.

Leaving behind Kunming, a city with spring-like weather all year round, we started the third day of our journey in the historical town of Weishan in Dali. We had a bumpy ride in the scorching hot weather. I don’t know even what the temperature was!

I sat in the back of the shuttle bus, where cool air from the AC could hardly reach, just bouncing. Even I, someone who grew up in the south of a country of subtropical climate, could not stand it. It was really harsh sunlight! The journey was like a ride in an oven. On top of that, there was also a driving skill-challenging traffic jam and unexpected underground pipeline installation work on the way. The journey suddenly felt so much longer!

“Good morning!” The moment we walked into the classroom of demonstration teaching, all the children who had been waiting greeted us energetically. It just dismissed all the anxiety and apprehension I’d had before the trip. Here, children with special needs study in the same class as other students.

But throughout the class, the interaction among all the children was so natural. Having special needs students in the class didn’t make anyone uncomfortable and no one was ignored. I guess this is another purpose of inclusive education; to reduce, change and even end misunderstanding and discrimination brought about by ignorance.

We are different; we are the same. This is the lesson I learned today.

Unexpected underground pipeline installation work on the way. Picture by Lara Cheng.

Having special needs students in the class did not make anyone uncomfortable. Picture by Lara Cheng.

There is no different love

Back in Taiwan, I regularly participate in campaigns that give me a chance to teach or interact with children and schools in remote villages. I always love the pure innocence of children. During this campaign, I realized that they don’t want much. Even when we had nothing to give but love, care and company, they responded with joy and smiles. It has been the biggest feedback and motivation for me.

Playing interactive games with children in Qing Shu Ying Primary School was the happiest thing. By Tyra Li.

This time I came to Yunnan with the IWitness team. After long car rides, we reached Weishan, a city of rich culture and history. We learned a lot about inclusive education and visited schools to spend time with the children. Now I am more motivated to take action and do meaningful things. This experience also taught me to see the world from a different angle.

A butterfly cannot be born without breaking through its cocoon. Children with special needs and their parents, and other people around them, have to break the walls in their minds first before being able to explore the world beyond.

Maybe we are all different from each other but love makes us all the same.

Created by children. Picture by Tyra Li.

On the way to visit Da Cang primary school. By Tyra Li.










A street view of Weishan. Picture by Tyra Li.

Lovely Bear, let’s start out for IWitness!! By Tyra Li.





We are different, we are the same.

Save the Children’s slogan “we are different; we are the same” impressed me the most today. Teachers here taught us how inclusive education has helped children with disabilities obtain fair and equal education and treatment.

“We are different; we are the same”. Picture by Ella Liao

In places out of our sight, many people are making continuous efforts to promote inclusive education and the importance of education for children. They are working not only with children but also with teachers and parents. They are doing their best to give teachers the most thorough training so that children can slowly learn different ideas from them. In the same way, parents can also teach them more and better ideas in their daily lives.

The inclusive education project helped me understand how Save the Children has teamed up with the IKEA Foundation [and other organisations] to promote education and a wide range of projects to support children. Their strategy is not to work behind closed doors but to start with small things and slowly increase the number of successful examples and share their work with others. It has also slowly changed the stereotype most children, teachers and parents used to have. Moreover, it has deeply influenced the government’s policy, encouraging it to pay more attention to these projects.

I really want to thank Save the Children for their continuous hard work to promote and support these projects. As a member of the IWitness programme, I am happy to share what I heard and saw with friends, family and colleagues around me, so that they can join us to follow these projects and issues.

I believe that other IWitness members will bring back more information to share with our co-workers at IKEA Taiwan.

A significant legal breakthrough for children with disabilities in China

Teacher Wu, from Qinshuying Primary School, is reading 12-year-old Luo Shigang a story about a little rabbit making a snowman. Shigang, who lives in Weishan County in the Yunnan Province, was born with a birth defect to both his ears, resulting in hearing problems that affect his language and speech.

Wu is teaching him some simple sentences and words using exaggerated mouth shapes and gestures. Shigang reads her mouth, and says that the snowflake is “white and beautiful” and the rabbit has a “red scarf.”

The school found a teacher who could speak local dialect and communicate with him. Gradually, he is beginning to read titles and short sentences in Chinese textbooks, and count numbers up to 100. Although he is a little bit behind other students in academic subjects, Shigang is good at sports and is the fastest sprinter in his class.

Although there is a lack of accurate data on children with disabilities in China, it is estimated that there are around 3.9 million children with disabilities aged 0 to 14 in the country. Around a third of these children do not attend primary school, while attendance for children without disabilities is close to 100%. There is a great deal of stigma and many negative misconceptions around the idea of children with disabilities attending mainstream schools.

On 1 May, the Government of China announced revised regulations on the Education of Persons with Disabilities. Save the Children is particularly pleased to see these emphasize that inclusive education should be the first choice for children with disabilities. The previous regulations, which dated back to 1994, were weak and not a conducive framework for inclusive education.

It was one of the main advocacy asks of our Every Last Child campaign in China, which focuses on access to education for children with disabilities. The law revision work began in 2011 and Save the Children has been advocating for the revisions since 2012. We played a leading role in this achievement as we have the programming expertise; we formed partnerships with academic institutions and worked very closely with the Ministry of Education. Through our efforts, we have demonstrated best practice in less developed areas and showed how we can achieve it in China’s context.

The IKEA Foundation has been funding a large part of our inclusive education work in China, through our colleagues at Save the Children Sweden.

While the revised regulations will benefit many children, there is still a long way to go until they are fully implemented and until children stop suffering from stigma associated with disabilities.

By He Dan, Communications and Campaign Manager from Save the Children’s China Country Office, first from right