BetterShelter.org
As conflicts rage in various parts of the world, massive amounts of people are displaced. Around 21 million people are currently living as refugees, and over half can be found in just 10 countries: Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, Iran, Pakistan, Chad, Ethiopia, Kenya and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Given that only 2.5 percent of the global GDP comes from these nations, a plurality of foreign aid strategies needs to be funded and implemented to ensure that refugees can survive and one day regain control of their lives. One such strategy is developing innovative, cost-effective, comfortable and sustainable shelters to house refugees.

For all people, shelter is a basic survival need, and a great many refugees need better shelter than they currently have. The simple canvas tents used to house many refugees are prone to damage from floods, fires and high winds.

BetterShelter.org delivers their shelters in cardboard boxes, and each shelter only takes about four people to assemble. All shelters are designed to be built by hand. They have sturdy steel frames covered by insulated walls and ceiling materials. Solar panels are installed to generate electricity that can be utilized for anything from providing light to charging electronic devices. In addition to this, safety features like mosquito netting and locking doors are now available.

Last year, BetterShelter.org provided housing for 10,000 families across the globe, and the organization hopes to enlarge that number this year. Thanks to a partnership with IKEA and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), its goals looks achievable.

Refugees are forced to leave behind their homes, jobs, schools and dreams to flee dangerous circumstances. It is up to those that have plenty to aid those who have little. Efforts to provide better shelters for refugees need generous support if they are to continue improving the lives of people without a place to call home.

Aaron Walsh

Photo: Flickr

Architects for Society Designs Sustainable Housing for Refugees
Architects for Society (AFS) defines itself as, “a group of experienced architects from the U.S., Canada, Europe, the Middle East and India who are committed to engage practitioners, policy-makers, and the public in a collaborative dialogue.” In other words, its members use innovative design techniques to develop the environment of vulnerable communities. The organization’s sustainable housing designs are helping to make strides in contributing to the global refugee crisis.

Currently, the world is struggling to cope with a global refugee crisis. A record number of people worldwide have been forced from their homes due to violence, lack of economic opportunity and a plethora of other reasons. The global community has faced many challenges in supporting displaced peoples, included economic and social problems. Architects for Society, as an organization, is looking for answers to these problems.

The nonprofit was founded in 2015 and since has focused on designing sustainable housing, schools, youth and community centers. The organization’s staff is made up of experienced architects who have been educated on design research and production.

The AFS website also features art by several members of the team that aims to educate on current global issues. The organization states, “A key component of our education programs will be to promote the interest of these communities in a positive light and stimulate the public to support development efforts.”

This year, the Minnesota-based nonprofit developed a design called the “Hex House.” The design is meant to serve refugee communities, as it is affordable, self-supporting and versatile. The organization describes the homes as “both dignified and cost-effective.”

The structures are 431 square foot units mostly made of steel and foam Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs). Each unit is said to cost between $15,000-$20,000 but differs from other emergency housing in that it is designed to last between 15-20 years.

Shaped like a hexagon, the homes can be arranged in various ways and can be combined to create larger dwellings. They are equipped with modern conveniences, a bedroom, kitchen, bathroom and living space.

AFS designers carefully thought through the provision of utility services when designing the Hex House. Rainwater is collected through a gutter system that filters the water into a storage tank. Each side of the home is equipped with a ventilation system that can be adjusted according to the direction of the wind. Power is stipulated by solar panels.

Another aspect of the design is its versatility. The homes are user-friendly in a way that allows for anyone to put it together using basic tools. Hex Houses are designed to be flat packed and delivered to emergency sites in trailers or trucks, which could potentially solve safety and humanitarian issues for those living in refugee camps. Considering that the average time spent in a refugee camp is 17 years, the Hex Houses could solve issues for many people.

The designs are still in their first stages in terms of tangible effects, but funding for the development of a Hex House prototype is ongoing and AFS will move forward with the project as finances allow.

AFS’ groundbreaking designs offer a humanizing solution for people stuck in dehumanizing situations. Recognizing that, “there are natural and man-made catastrophic event affecting the living conditions of large population groups,” Architects for Society sustainable housing could easily contribute to a solution for the global refugee crisis.

Peyton Jacobsen

Photo: Flickr

New Story
Hurricane Matthew killed 1,000 people and left 60,000 suddenly homeless. The New York Times reports that in one Haitian city alone, 80 percent of buildings were desolated. In the face of the worst natural disaster since the 2010 earthquake, one has to wonder if there is anything positive to be found among the pain in this devastated country. That’s where New Story comes in. New Story is a non-profit that has built 211 homes in Haiti, all of which survived Hurricane Matthew.

Every single house stood resistant to the category four storm. CEO Brett Hagler updated supporters the day after the hurricane saying, “People […] were bringing in other folks from the tents to take refuge in the homes last night during the hurricane, which is amazing and a testament to the durability of these homes.”

Hypepotamus reports that New Story was founded in 2014 on a mission to build homes for Haitian people in need. Hagler and Mike Arrieta compiled a strong Atlanta based team, successful in leveraging technology for social good as they built two new homes within their first three months of existence. Hagler explains, “We are trying to solve two problems — life-threatening homelessness and the status quo of traditional charity.”

The process begins with the recognition that homes are the foundation: without a stable place to live, families cannot focus on education, income or set hopeful goals for the future. The next step is to work with locals.

Every economy New Story interacts with is stimulated by the process through partnering with nonprofits and utilizing resources already present in the countries where they are building. Their website states, “through our partners, we learn in months what it would take years to understand if we tried to enter new communities independently.”

The key word there is “communities.” Instead of focusing only on individual homes, this organization builds entire communities so as to form strong and lasting places for people to live. They believe a home is more than four walls and are committed to gathering data to ensure that the next is even better than the last.

They challenge the status quo of traditional charity by proving that 100 percent of their donations go toward building homes. Each home costs only $6,000 to build and donors can start a crowdsourcing fund to raise every dollar, or they can give as little as the amount of cash in their pocket.

No matter how much money a donor gives, every single one is connected through video with the exact family whose house they helped to build. This transparency gives visual representation of that which is abstract for donations to so many other nonprofits. “Now going forward there’s obviously a lot of recovery to do […] and we think this hurricane just punctuates our belief that everyone deserves a safe home,” said Hagler.

With 100 percent of donations directly helping families, communities and larger economies, this nonprofit is an incredible example of work that is effective and strong even in the face of 140 mile-per-hour winds. There is a new story being told, in Haiti and beyond, and the question remaining is how each of us will help to write it.

Rebecca Causey

Photo: Flickr

Refugees in GermanyGerman chancellor Angela Merkel has made refugees in Germany a priority. As the Syrian refugee crisis unfolded, the chancellor decided on an open-door policy, which allowed over one million refugees to resettle in Germany. Recently, Merkel urged German corporations to integrate refugees into companies more quickly, arguing that refugee employment will support the German economy. And there is no shortage of refugees in Germany who are ready to work; the latest reports provided by the Federal Employment Agency state that 346,000 people with asylum status sought employment in the month of August alone.

Large German companies are hesitant to hire refugees for a myriad of reasons. Companies argue that they do not want to risk their productivity by employing refugees who don’t currently possess necessary skills. Companies may also have qualms about the fact that many refugees have yet to become fluent in German, and that 80 percent of asylum seekers do not possess a primary- or secondary-level education.

Legal issues still remain, such as incomplete paperwork for asylum approval and lack of proper identification for background checks. Merkel and some German companies, however, are working to make it easier for refugees to land jobs that not only provide income but also the skills necessary to be qualified contenders in the job market.

Despite the trepidation of some German companies towards refugee employment, many are using the influx of people to their advantage. Germany’s national rail carrier, Deutsche Bahn, announced that over the next two years it will create room for an additional 150 refugees in its qualification program, which includes German language courses. Deutsche Post currently employs more than 100 refugees, and national internet service provider Deutsche Telekom plans to hire 75 refugees through an apprenticeship program as well. Companies such as Mercedes, Siemens and Daimler have even created pre-training programs to prepare refugees for apprenticeships.

With the support of German companies, refugees in Germany can build better lives.

Mariana Camacho

Photo: Flickr

Ways to Host Refugees America
Increased media coverage of the global refugee crisis has prompted waves of humanitarian support and local activism across the world. Iceland made headlines when 10,000 of its citizens volunteered to house personally refugees coming from Syria, and others have followed suit in finding ways to host refugees, from Berlin to Birmingham.

Wondering about ways to host refugees in your home? Not everyone can personally provide housing, but below are three simple ways to get started in the effort to welcome refugees to America.

 

3 Ways to Host Refugees in America

 

  1. Become aware of local need. It’s easier than ever to become connected to relief and charitable organizations near you. Some of the largest and most wide-reaching of resettlement agencies in the United States are the International Rescue Committee and Catholic Community Services, both of which organize humanitarian aid in over 100 U.S. cities.Spend some time reaching out to charitable organizations in your area to find out what their current needs are, who their clients are, and what types of schools, health or religious organizations work with them.
  2. Consider temporarily housing a refugee. Although refugees admitted to the United States for resettlement are usually quickly connected with local relief agencies, refugees are often vulnerable to unstable housing conditions or even homelessness. Several U.S. and international agencies are searching for individuals and families with extra rooms that they are willing to use to host recently arrived refugees, especially those in crisis or extreme circumstances.Connect with Room for Refugees, which specializes in providing safe temporary housing for refugees living in the United Kingdom, the United States, Europe and Canada. The chance to personally share your home with a refugee can be immensely rewarding, and provide desperately needed help for those adjusting to life in a new place.Looking for ways to host refugees in your home?Search for organizations like the Karam Foundation, a non-profit group providing aid for Syrians, which is currently seeking to help new refugees find housing with Americans of Syrian descent.Many private non-profit organizations are seeking to connect refugees with a variety of services for temporary housing, and your opportunity to help could be as close as your front door.
  3. Consider ways to host refugees by connecting them with neighbors. Becoming a friend and neighbor to refugees struggling to resettle may be the most powerful way to combat hateful rhetoric, both in the U.S. and abroad.Agencies like the International Rescue Committee, among others, place a high priority on helping refugee families find friends, neighbors and support structures within their new communities. When the 2015 cap for U.S. resettlement of refugees was raised to 85,000 from 70,000, it prompted waves of polarization and xenophobia across the country.A Pew Research Center survey even showed that a majority of Americans disapprove of helping to resettle more Syrians within our borders. The International Rescue Committee, along with other agencies, regularly recruit home mentors for refugee families, providing you with the opportunity to welcome your new friends into your home, or you into theirs, as you solidify a new friendship.

    Other aid agencies are in constant need of home tutors, both for students struggling to adjust to life in American public schools, as well as adults returning to school or learning English as a second language.

    While in-kind and monetary donations of food, clothing, furniture and supplies can help a refugee family build a home, the chance to be a family mentor, tutor or friend may do more to help refugees feel like they belong.

The U.S. admits record numbers of refugees, but schools and government agencies still struggle to help refugees feel at home and safe. Helping to find ways to host refugees and opening your home, either literally or otherwise, is a critical opportunity to be part of solving the world’s worst refugee crisis in 70 years. More importantly, it’s a chance to help your neighbors know that they belong.

Eliza Campbell

Photo: U.N. Multimedia