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  • Field Ready

Shelter by Design Thinking

The problem of inadequate shelter has long frustrated those who live or work in refugee camps. Tents provide little protection from the cold.

But Field Ready and our partners are working on a solution. For the last year, we've been part of the Waste For Warmth project, which uses recycled waste plastic in refugee camps to locally manufacture tent insulation. Once completed, the specially designed tent panels will be used to help displaced people stay warm in cold environments.

Eager to get input from some of the best minds in shelter production, we hosted our Design Thinking Workshop in mid-September at the Teymur Hotel in Gaziantep. Facilitated by Ghiath Hawari and Kinda Almeamar of SABR Business Design in Gaziantep, the event aimed to share insights and brainstorm prototype improvements.

The input was enthusiastic and enlightening. Together with our project partners – Engineers Without Borders-Norway, The Polyfloss Factory and the Norwegian Red Cross – we hosted people from more than 15 groups at the workshop. Designers, engineers, aid workers, students, individuals who have lived in tents and experts who work in plastic management and recycling all asked questions, debated answers and mulled solutions during the three-day event. The Waste For Warmth project is supported by Innovation Norway.

The challenges are many: bad weather makes the tents uncomfortable, they don't last long and they're often expensive for refugees to repair. Recent surveys show that 54% of displaced people living in camps report cold and damp conditions in their shelter, and 85% are living in tents that are more than a year old.

By gathering feedback from the different stakeholders, "we're taking an iterative approach to design that inspires ideas, helps teams to avoid mistakes and results in better, faster and cheaper interventions," said Susan Long, Field Ready's Middle East regional lead.

The insights from firsthand research, modeling and the workshop will support both product performance and local manufacturing economic viability projections, noted Emad Nasher, Field Ready's Syria program manager.

Making the tent panels is straightforward: waste plastics are collected in the camps, sorted and fed into the field-friendly Polyfloss machines. The machines then process the recycled plastic into a candyfloss-like material. That material is sewn into panels to insulate the tents and improve their resistance to cold weather and help keep them cooler in hot weather.

The project has multiple benefits - it vastly improves shelter, creates value for discarded plastics and creates local job opportunities in recycling and manufacturing.

We developed the product prototypes last winter in Oslo, Norway, where we tested the insulated tent panels. We're now testing the Polyfloss machine in Gaziantep in collaboration with the Union of Chamber of Handicrafts, and testing the prototype panels in Northwest Syrian refugee camps.

The tests will ensure the final product results in warmer tents in winter and cooler tents in summer, better living conditions for displaced people, less fuel consumption for warmth and reduced use of dangerous campfires.

It's hoped the ideas gathered during the Design Thinking Workshop will result in better tent panels and their improved manufacture and distribution. Once the panels are refined and completed, we plan to use them for tents in Syrian refugee camps and other countries where needed.


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