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From refugee camp to makerspace

What if we would reframe refugee camps as co-living and co-working innovation camps for a better world? A space where refugees as pioneers would build their own new world, with all the equipment needed at hand in fablabs. Where they would work, cook, clean and take care of themselves with a little help from local experts, mentors and supporters. Instead of being treated either as poor helpless victims or as calculating fortune-hunters, we can treat them as people who suffered a lot but who have talents to offer in order to cope with one of the biggest challenges the (western) world has faced in decades.

This idea was born during a visit to eco-hacking camp POC21. POC21 was an ‘innovation camp to prototype the fossil free, zero waste society. About 157 makers, designers, engineers, scientists and geeks joined forces for five immersive weeks in a stunning french castle. Their ultimate goal: Overcome our destructive consumer culture and make open-source, sustainable products the new normal’.
They made it. After five weeks the results could be shown to the public in a beautiful temporary exhibition. The castle-sheds served as well-equiped fablabs and coworking spaces. The makers slept in tents, had workshifts in the kitchen and in cleaning the eco-friendly toilets.

My friend Amanda and I were impressed most by the vibrant, energetic atmosphere. Amazing what five weeks of intensive co-working and co-living for a very important cause can do. Five weeks to make incredible prototypes and build a temporary exhibition space, while at the same time sharing responsabilities for cooking and cleaning as well. The nights without proper sleep towards the end of the project because the glass wall of the shower loop broke and other prototypes needed more work then thought (of course) were part of the success story. It contributed to the ‘we can do it’ spirit,  the spirit of ‘it was not easy, we had to face lots of really difficult obstacles on our way, we laughed and cried, and worked our way through it and in the end, we made it, we amazed ourselves and the world, wow’.

In cities all over Europe industrial buildings and large office spaces are empty. These buildings can serve as places for refugees to transform in temporary living and working spaces, in co-creation with local residents, governments and private actors. Funding is needed, and it takes time and effort to succeed, lots of time and effort, no doubt about that. But it is sort of fun and it is worth the effort. Building on people’s strenghts, giving them the tools to regain hope, to take life into their own hands again. Wouldn’t that be great? The time is now.

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