Reflections on Making for World Refugee Day

This piece is part of a series highlighting the work and stories of Makers for the National Week of Making, June 16–22, 2017.

Falling on the fifth day of the National Week of Making, Tuesday June 20th is World Refugee Day. According to the UNHCR, World Refugee Day is “the day the world commemorates the strength, courage, and perseverance of millions of refugees.” With strength, courage, and perseverance, many things are possible; with strength, courage, perseverance, and the tools you need at your fingertips, anything is possible.

At the essence of making is collaboration and solidarity. In an industry so often run with a “top-down” approach, bringing making to humanitarian aid allows us to work together with those affected by crisis not as helpless victims, but as partners, equals, and friends. Those affected by crisis and disaster are more often than not capable — they are people with agency, ideas, knowledge, and qualifications of their own, with whom we can learn and exchange.

2016 Nepali Maker Summit at Nepal Communitere in Kathmandu. Photo credit: Nepal Communitere

Communitere International is an international non-profit based in San Francisco that builds collaborative hubs for people from disaster-stricken areas, fostering innovation, creativity, and self-reliance. Since 2010, they have built resource centers in Haiti after the January 2010 earthquake, in the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, and in Nepal after the 2015 earthquakes. This year, they are turning to address a different kind of crisis: a man-made one; they launched Greece Communitere in April to address the dual economic and refugee crises in Greece.

Initially funded by the American Refugee Committee, Greece Communitere is in the process of building a semi-permanent resource center (SPRC) in Thessaloniki, Greece, and a mobile resource center (MRC) to travel to refugee camps and communities on mainland Greece and the islands. Through partnership with the Global Innovation Gathering (GIG), Greece Communitere was able to secure a hauling van, “Big Blue”, as well as a trailer from Fab Lab Siegen, which together form the basis of the MRC.

The Big Blue MRC hauling van, on loan from partnership with the Global Innovation Gathering. Photo credit: Doc North

Both Big Blue and the trailer were sourced in Germany, so to get the MRC to Greece, the Communitere team is currently making the journey from Berlin to Thessaloniki. They are stopping in various cities and countries to mobilize international community members to come together to gather resources and make the center fully functional. Along the way, they are meeting and working with a variety of stakeholders including refugees, makerspaces, and activists & NGOs to further support refugees and locals.

I am a Greek living in Germany all my life, but I feel attracted to Greece, like a rubber band pulling me there. So whatever I can do for my home, I just do. I also feel for the refugees coming from war, seeking help, with torn-apart families and lives. The MRC project itself, from its core, is in my opinion what Greece and its people need. I am not sure how popular maker culture there is, however making stuff and having people to show how to make stuff — can make people understand that each and every one has the power to change things. It gives hope and empowerment. I have seen not just poverty in Greece in the past few years — but hunger. Some are hopeless and there is a lot of pessimism. Then there is the cultural and historical background. Muslims are not amongst the highest regarded people there and having mostly Syrian or Arab refugees makes a quite complicated situation. And that’s a key point why the MRC is so important: through its activities, it fosters inclusion and hopefully dialogue between refugee and Greek populations. It empowers the people to tackle their problems with hope, to be self-sustainable, and to think out of the box.
-Marios Mouratidis, MRC Team — Fab Lab Siegen

En route to Thessaloniki, the Communitere team is also hosting a series of Week of Welcome dinners to facilitate connection and open critical conversations in solidarity with those who are not able to so freely cross borders. The Week of Welcome, which lasts from June 19th — June 25th aims to create more welcoming societies around the world.

With refugee students breaking Ramadan fast with a BBQ at OPENmarx Future.Lab in Vienna. Photo credit: Haptic Media

The MRC journey to Greece will culminate with World Refugee Day, but for Communitere, the US National Week of Making is not only about refugees. Haiti Communitere, in 7 years of operation has welcomed nearly 40,000 Haitian visitors and 35,000 international visitors to its resource center equipped with workshop space, tools, 3D printers, a computer lab, a conference room, event space, alternative building models, and high-speed internet access. Nepal Communitere, opened in response to the earthquakes of 2015, organized and hosted the world’s first humanitarian-themed Maker Faire last year. Communitere addresses both natural disaster and refugee issues, and there are plenty of places in the US that qualify for both. Moving forward, Communitere will continue to build on the existing success of prior locations, while also highlighting Greece and future prospects for similar centers in the US.

The legacies of the National Week of Making and the Week of Welcome do not have to end on the 22nd and the 25th respectively. We encourage makerspaces around the US to continue inviting refugees and those affected by disaster to come experience the magic of making. Makerspaces have the potential to be the best community centers. Lessons we are learning through the building of makerspaces and resource centers internationally are transportable back home to the US. Opening up to newcomers is of mutual benefit to an entire community. We work as a larger community of human beings and the Maker movement in the US is so very inclusive. Let us use that great power and potential to bring people together and help those around us.

Wherever you find need, makers are there to help.
-Dorothy Jones-Davis, Executive Director, Nation of Makers

If you have other stories or examples of the ways in which Makers are currently helping refugees in their communities, please share these with us in the response section below. Communitere openly welcomes invitations for partnership; for inquiries, contact operations@communitere.org. To see Communitere’s current fundraiser and read their full story visit: cmtr.today

Greece Communitere team helping make kites on World Refugee Day 2017 in Thessaloniki. Photo credit: Erika Barraza