Written by: Andrina Beuggert
Hassan opens the door separating the two rooms of the caravan and points to its hinge. Abdullah, standing next to him, takes a close look at the hinge and swings the door back and forth. As he shuts it and diligently examines whether it closes well, Hassan can no longer hold back his laughter. The two young men amicably shake hands and tap each others’ shoulders.
The two are role playing, and for a reason. Along with four other young refugees in Azraq Camp, they are launching a time bank, a skills exchange among community members. Time instead of money is used as a currency to access services. In the scene described, they imitated how the help provided would be evaluated – to ensure high-quality standards among the skills exchanged.
The time bank is part of a broader effort of UNICEF Jordan to create employment pathways for young refugees. In a context where a generation of youth is at the brink of losing years of education and professional development, we seek to support refugees to start social enterprises and get the professional skills they need for a future-oriented career. For the next year in Jordan alone, we aim to support 12 youth-led ventures in the refugee camps.
A refugee camp is likely the perfect setting for a time bank. “People here have plenty of time, they have skills, they have needs, but they don’t have money“, explains Esraa, one of the six team members. It’s very much needed, especially in Village 5, where people are not allowed to leave and conditions are hardest.“
It was roughly six months ago that the group of young refugees embarked on their mission to boost the camp‘s economy and foster a deeper sense of community in the camp. By then, a time bank was no more than an abstract concept, recommended to them as a potentially impactful model from the sharing economy.
Since then, the team has taken big strides. When asked, the team members produce half a dozen of pictures telling the stories of their early successes. Little girls with artistically put-up hairstyles, meals cooked for neighboring children, and solar panels attached to the roofs of caravans.
Or the story of Mustafa and Abu Ahmad. Mustafa is a barber who needed help to install a sunshade in front of his caravan. He was introduced to Abu Ahmad, a trained construction worker, who helped him install the sunshade. In exchange, Mustafa provided hair-cuts for Abu Ahmad’s family. “They thanked us for making them become friends“, says Mohammad.
The youth’s eyes spark even more when they tell about their trip to Amman. “Hu-ma-ni-ta-ri-an Award!“, says Esraa in her best English and her eyes laugh. In August 2017, the time bank team was selected as the winner of the UN OCHA Humanitarian Award for Jordan in the innovation category. It was at last minute that they received official permission to leave the camp and accept the award in person.
“I felt free like a bird“, says Hassan and stretches out his arms as if to demonstrate. “Now I want to work even harder for a better future“, says Esraa. Yasser, who wants to be a computer engineer, nods fiercely to show his agreement.
The highly regulated camp setting has posed the biggest challenge for the team so far. To obtain permission and support, the team initially presented their idea to UNICEF staff and leadership, and then to the two organizations responsible for the overall camp management, UNHCR and the Jordanian Government’s Syrian Refugee Affairs Directorate (SRAD). The team just received permission to use two computers in the youth center from where they are operating, and will ask for further permission for the posters and flyers they seek to distribute.
As this refugee-run project is a first of its kind for UNICEF Office of Innovation and its partners in Jordan, establishing new internal processes has equally taken time. By now, the right budget lines have been identified, the stipend payments released, and the branded clothes ordered. The lessons learnt will guide UNICEF Jordan’s innovation team in similar projects that it will support in the future.
In the coming weeks and months, the team will fully start the time bank. They will have to develop in detail the system that allows them to manage members’ transactions, ensure high accountability and quality standards, continue community outreach, and manage partnerships to vocational training institutions and community centers in the camp. In the process, they will assume great responsibility and gain valuable professional experience.
Over the last four months, the six team members have visibly transformed from motivated youth into self-confident community leaders. And they already want to pass on their newly gained faith to their younger peers.
Yasser says: “We want to go back to the Social Innovation Labs where we originally got trained, and tell the current participants that it’s possible – that they can create change.“
The time bank has the potential to not only lift up the six young refugees but the whole community of Azraq Camp. What is certain is that it has already changed the lives of the six team members – who are leading the way for much more.