Centre Director Tony Ryan works with academics, experts and refugees co-creating sustainable solutions to life at the Za’atari refugee camp.
Together they recyle materials from the camp to create home improvements and agricultural innovations. Old mattresses, bikes and yogurt pots have found new life as hydroponic systems, air conditioning, and wheelchairs. We are developing the innovations from the camp for use in other countries.
Find out more about the Grantham Centre at Za’atari in the video below ↓
Moaed Al Meselmani a Researcher at The University of Sheffield and the project manager of the hydroponic systems in Za’atari. Part of the project since its early days, Moaed ensures the success of co-creation at the camp.
He is a project management professional, with a Ph.D in Plant Physiology. Moaed - who is Syrian - also shares a first language with many camp residents. Moaed has so far organised hydroponics training for 600+ refugees.
Tony Ryan has been working in the Za'atari refugee camp in Jordan since he and Helen Storey from the London College of Fashion were invited to visit by the UNHCR in 2016. Tony and Helen have worked together for over a decade on projects that link chemistry, fashion and sustainability.
Tony is now part of an international team of varied experts, from engineers to social scientists, who regularly visit the camp. Together they co-create sustainable solutions to problems of agriculture, transport, sanitation and well-being at the camp.
Read Tony's blog about Za'atari here
The limitations at the refugee camp mean Tony’s team have to work creatively: producing sustainable solutions that would never have been thought of in a lab.
Their materials include canvas and poles from tents and recovered bikes from the Amsterdam Police. Plus they received donations from two Sheffield companies: bicycle parts from Planet X and rigging equipment from Gripple.
Tony’s team focused on co-created sustainable solutions for home water heating and electricity generation, as well wheelchairs and recycling trucks.
Patrick Fairclough, a professor in mechanical engineering, led the project to produce energy from windmills. He used ideas from his childhood in South Africa, where home-made pumps and generators to power air conditioning were common.
Two prototypes were built to generate electricity for homes and a bucket windmill to power a fan inside a caravan. The bottom bracket (where the pedals and cranks attach) from a bicycle was used as the bearing and aluminium wash basins for the buckets.
A material there’s plenty of in Za'atari are used mattresses. Grantham Scholar Harry Wright has re-purposed these mattresses for a surprising use: growing fruit and vegetables.
Hydroponics is a way of growing plants without soil, using a nutrient solution with roots supported in a medium. In Za'atari the hydroponics system is set up with old yogurt tubs to hold the solution and filled with mattress foam, the growing media.
Because Jordanian law prevents refugees from growing plants in the earth, adopting hydroponics instead means residents - many of whom were farmers - can now grow food.
Read Harry's blog about this here
The sustainable solutions developed in response to humanitarian crisis are the sort of solutions needed to respond to another crisis: the environmental one.
To deal with environmental crisis we must reduce global consumption by recycling more materials. We also have to find ways to grow food in a changing climate - one with less water and more C02. New ways of providing power when natural resources run out (ideally we would use green alternative before this) are vital.
And predictions estimate there will be millions of environmental refugees as a result of climate change. So finding innovative ways to help displaced people is part of creating a sustainable future.