Creative Capacity Building with Unaccompanied Refugee Minors & Women — Athens, Greece

Refugee youth taking part in a 3D printer in workshop. Athens, Greece, October 2018.
Refugee youth taking part in a 3D printer in workshop. Athens, Greece, October 2018.

The workshop helped refugee youth rebuild a positive self-image beyond the marginalized identity of “refugee” – at the end of the workshop, they could see themselves in a new way: as makers and innovators.


Faros and unaccompanied refugee youth in Athens

In 2017, D-Lab began a partnership with Faros, a non-profit organization in Greece that provides care and support to unaccompanied refuge youth, to explore the possibility of developing a design training as an income generation project. There are approximately 3,000 unaccompanied refugee minors in Greece, almost all boys between the ages of 12 and 17, from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Kurdistan. They are stranded in Greece because of agreements between the European Union and Greece to stop further passage of refugees into the rest of Europe.  Having left their countries because of armed conflict, they ended up alone in Greece without parents, several are orphaned by war, and they face huge challenges. With no real solution to their limbo, they are caught up in the often inexplicably cruel bureaucratic gears of asylum and immigration policy.

Design and Skills Training for refugee youth

Creative Capacity Building - August 2017

In August of 2017, a team of six MIT D-Lab staff members and students led a week-long Creative Capacity Building (CCB) workshop for refugee youth under the auspices of Faros. Although the primary aim of the CCB training was for the youth to design products to use or sell for income generation, the team saw that the most important impact was the personal transformation generated by the experience of the training. The experiences of trauma, exploitation and falling through the cracks of the aid system had deeply affected the self-confidence of the youth and the workshop really helped many of them rebuild a positive self-image beyond the marginalized identity of “refugee.” The process of creating useful things that they needed enabled restored confidence in themselves. They rediscovered their ability and aptitude to learn new skills. At the end of the workshop, they could see themselves in a new way: as makers and innovators.

The workshop took place at The Cube Athens, a co-working and maker space. A group of 16 teens came from different shelters and camps in and around Athens, traveling for up to an hour and a half in the intense August heat to get to the training site. They spent the first three days learning the design process and gaining hands-on skills through a variety of projects and activities and during the second three days, applied the process to a project of their own choice.

Read D-Lab student Jana Saadi’s blog on her experience as part of the training team.

Follow-on workshops, advancing projects, reaching additional refugee youths - Fall 2017

Faros was galvanized by the impact the training had on the youth and wanted to keep up the momentum. D-Lab: Humanitarian Innovation student Zoe Sheinkopf (MIT ‘17), one of the initial workshop facilitators, stayed on in Athens for three months to provide support and follow-up for the refugee youth who participated in the initial CCB training. She taught additional workshops on a variety of skills through CCB activities, aided participants in their design projects, managed the use of Faros and D-Lab tools, and materials, and carried out design activities for many youth not included in the original cohort.

In December 2017, to build on Zoe’s work and the summer CCB workshop, D-Lab collaborator and IDIN member, Alejandra Villanueva, spent two weeks working with Faros staff to develop an outreach program to other refugee youth shelters, providing hands on participatory design activities to a total of 200 refugee youth and families. She incorporated hands-on training of the Faros team into this work, building their confidence and ability to lead design activities with the youth.

Establishing the Horizon Center - an innovation center for refugee youth

After seeing the results of the summer workshop, the United Nations High Commissioner for Relief (UNHCR) gave Faros a seed grant to establish a permanent innovation and vocational training center, the Horizon Center, to train unaccompanied refugee youth and young adults. As Faros prepares to open the Horizon Center formally in January 2019, D-Lab has stepped up our efforts to train the Faros staff at the center to adapt and teach the CCB design curriculum for the youth.

Building an innovation ecosystem at the Horizon Center in Athens - Fall 2018, Winter 2019

In September and October of 2018, D-Lab organized two teams to go to Athens and provide workshops for Faros. The first five-day workshop (from September 17-21) led by Amy with the support of Martha and Debora Leal, another collaborator from the IDIN network, focused on training the Faros Horizon Center team to adapt and teach the CCB curriculum. Martha and Debora stayed on to help Faros plan the first year of the Center’s operation and map the existing ecosystem for refugee innovation in Athens.

3D Printer Workshop for refugee youth and Faros staff - Fall 2018

From September 26-October 10, 2018 a second team organized by MIT D-Lab went to Athens to pilot a 10-day workshop in 3D printing for the refugee youth The team was composed of two IDIN colleagues, Roy Ombatti from African Born 3D in Kenya and Heewon Lee, a D-Lab consultant as well as Justine Boudreau, a graduate student at Ottawa University. Again, the training team was struck by the notably positive psychological impact on the youth, they say the boys’ growing pride in themselves, their improved ability to really concentrate and apply themselves and flourishing teamwork. See video here.

The youth built two 3D printers from discarded computer parts to get a more comprehensive idea of how 3D printers work. Again, the training team wasAs part of the fall 3D printer workshop, the D-Lab team trained the Faros team how to operate and teach the use of 3D printers. On October 15, Faros staff trained by the D-Lab team began to teach a curriculum for basic computer skills and 3D printing for refugee youth based on what they learned in the D-Lab training.

As part of D-Lab’s concerted effort to train the Faros team, Alejandra Villamil will return to Athens on November 25 to work with and support the Faros staff for two weeks as they prepare and present the first two modules of the CCB curriculum in early December.
Finally, Martha Thompson will return in January 2019 with a team of D-Lab students to support Faros in providing additional workshops and trainings for youth. Faros is currently applying to different foundations for funds to run the center, expand training opportunities and develop marketing studies for potential products.



Amy Smith, Founding Director MIT D-Lab

Martha Thompson, Humanitarian Innovation Specialist

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