Today we had an incredible experience installing our first unit of the week at Ritsona refugee camp.
We had visited this camp before, last June, and were now coming to check-up on our old unit and install our new updated pilot version. We had never imagined the camp would transform so much in so little time.
After driving for a little over an hour from Athens, we arrived to a small clearing near a forest: Ritsona. Walking into the camp, we noticed some immediate changes: what had before been tents were now Iso-boxes with controlled heating systems and electricity; and the housing location had now shifted, so our Solar Hub was no longer in a convenient place.
We identified a new location to install our upgraded unit – close to where people were already accustomed to gathering. It is now standing proud next to the playground, classroom spaces, and warehouse from which the food and clothing are distributed.
Installing the Hub was a natural icebreaker. People gathered to find out what we were doing and started to get to know us. Although many spoke Arabic or Kurdish, a number of English speakers were more than happy to act as translators and spread the word about our work throughout the community. In a matter of minutes our crowd had grown, including children who were among the most excited.
Installing the Hub was a straightforward process: digging out a small hole, filling it with sand, gravel, concrete mix, and water, and carefully setting in our metal frame and solar panel, complete with a banner of instructions in Arabic and English explaining how to connect. Of course we profited from the help of some refugees well versed in this kind of work.
Throughout this interactive process we were able to meet more camp residents, talk them through the interfaces, get to know their stories and learn more about the needs of the camp. It was clear that while our offline library will be useful, a more pressing need for camps as remote as Ritsona is access to Wi-Fi. A number of people were particularly excited about the translation and language learning tools we included. Many volunteered to fill out questionnaires so we could learn more in-depth about how better to address their needs with our unit. This process also happened to be interrupted by the kids, who thought it was a fun game to tick as many boxes as possible (chasing after them was less fun).
With the technical work out of the way we focused on learning more about the community so that in future we can improve our approach according to the unique dynamics of each camp. In other words, we delightedly accepted invitations for Chai and fresh falafel, which our team unanimously agreed is among the best we’ve ever had! Sam lunched with a man named Abdul and his wife, both Kurds from Syria, whose children are currently in Germany, waiting to reunite. Abdul is not sure when he will next be able to see them.
Fueled with falafel and tea we experienced an intense football (or ‘soccer’ for those who favor American English) match that took place towards the rear of the camp, while children ran around flying kites for Carnival and small businesses of barbers and convenience store owners enticed each passer-by. Teenagers were especially willing to walk around and chat with us, and we ended the day with an hour-long volleyball match. What started with 4 v. 4 grew to about 15 people playing. Laughter, scattered "yalla"s, sore forearms and failed-spike face-plants were the end result. The day's catchphrase was "why not?" - a symbol of the positivity and flexibility that Ritsona personifies.
Many of us are now connected on Facebook with the amazing people we met (and proud to be receiving eager requests to come back for a rematch), and we look forward to working with the members of Ritsona refugee camp in order to refine our material to best serve the community there.
We had such an incredible time at Ritsona that it was hard to compress our experience into just 50 seconds, but enjoy this peek at our day below!
The Elpis Team