Life does not stop so why should education?

Ideas Box, Libraries without Borders
Photo: Agnes Montanari 

Learn more about Libraries Without Borders and how they are tackling the issue of a lack of formal education structures in refugee camps

According to statistics calculated by UNHCR in their Global Trends Report, the average time of exile for a refugee within a protracted crisis setting is 26 years. Twenty-six years during which their education will be interrupted, their freedom to move restricted, and ability to work limited. Despite the challenges, displaced communities worldwide have demonstrated the importance of education as a means to stability and prosperity. And partners around the world are responding to this call. This is how the Ideas Box was born – a box in which an individual and a community’s ideas can blossom, both within and outside an emergency context.

Created in 2014 by Libraries Without Borders (Bibliothèques Sans Frontières - BSF), the Ideas Box, designed by Philippe Starck, is an extremely compact virtual and physical library that fits on 2 pallets and can be easily transported and installed even in the most difficult contexts. When open, the Ideas Box creates a space with multiple features: internet connection via satellite, 4 laptops, over 15 touch screen tablets, 50 electronic readers, 300 hard-copy books and numerous pedagogical tools. It also contains a cinema module equipped with the necessary material to produce documentaries and community news, games and videogames, toys, puppets and a theatre set. Light furniture including tables for computers and mats for reading or movie projections are also integrated into the Ideas Box.

BSF deployed two Ideas Box kits in the Kavumu and Musasa refugee camps, in Burundi, for Congolese refugees, in February 2014. Five months later, a third Ideas Box was launched in the Bwagiriza refugee camp (Burundi). After three years of continuous development, the Ideas Box program for humanitarian action has, with the help of local organizations and NGOs scaled in the African the Great Lakes region (Rwanda and DRC), in the Middle East (Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq) and in Europe (Turkey, Greece, Germany and France). BSF has successfully reached almost 31,000 users with close to 20,000 in the Great Lakes region alone!  

In emergency situations, hard to reach places or in areas where education systems are not able to meet the demands of host and displaced communities, the Ideas Box is a promising additional delivery mechanism for education, providing a unique space and a rich educational toolkit while fostering innovative pedagogical methods, delivered efficiently.

In 2014, Dems, a young refugee who fled the atrocities committed by rebel groups in the Congo welcomed the Ideas Box. “I like reading, I like writing, I am a slam artist, and I am also a journalist. We pass our days mostly at home, or we wander in the camp without anything to do. In just a few minutes, our lives changed.” This shift in perception of what is suddenly possible is at the crux of what the Ideas Box set out to do.
Motivated by the vision of BSF and inspired to design the Ideas Box, Phillipe Starck believes “The dream is all the more important when we have lost everything. This is why the approach of BSF moved me so much. It is a really good approach. This is the first and the last thing we should give to people who have lost everything. All of a sudden there should be people coming out of nowhere, carrying colourful suitcases, raising up tents. And inside each suitcase there is wonder”.

The Ideas Box symbolizes potential. It is a necessary and welcome reminder of what can be achieved when there is access to information and education within a nurturing and safe community space.
For instance, in the Malakasa camp in Greece, home to 600 Afghan refugees including 150 children, Constantina, a teacher in the camp believes that “Most of them feel angry and they have a right to feel angry. They have to learn how to deal with the bad feelings they feel. Most of these children haven’t been to a normal school. Today, they are part of an educational group. They learned how to respect each other.”

For Jeremy Lachal, the brainchild behind the Ideas Box, creating ‘libraries’ in challenging places is absolutely essential. “We have actually created real zones of normality in the camps. These libraries in tents have become real reference points for the people, where they could find each other, exchange information, share. The refugees, the displaced persons, they have immediate needs: to eat, to heal, to find a place to live. But once these needs are satisfied they need to restore themselves, to recreate the bonds. Too often, there are no sufficient means to ensure the future.”

In humanitarian emergencies, education is not simply a human right, it is an investment in the potential of individuals and communities. To better support this potential, and given the scarcity of financial resources in humanitarian settings, the participation of BSF in the Humanitarian Education Accelerator is focused on improving the efficiency and effectiveness of Ideas Box.