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The world's first Fab Lab in a refugee camp - Updated Answers to Questions from Amplify & Experts 6/30/2015

Inspiring space to crowdsource and co-create innovative solutions for basic needs provision: a platform for moonshot humanitarian innovation

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Za'atari Refugee Camp lies on the Jordanian border with Syria and hosts 83,000 Syrian refugees. Idleness and unemployment are rampant; half of the children do not attend school; and pervasive smiles of resilience belie profound psychological trauma. In Za'atari, we're building an innovative learning environment for educational programs, vocational training, entrepreneurship, informal knowledge exchange and psychological treatment through interactive art. This facility, built with and for the community, will be the world's first digital fabrication lab, or "Fab Lab," in a refugee camp. A Fab Lab is a technical prototyping platform for innovation and invention, sharing common tools with 450 labs across the world -- all affiliated with MIT. Fab Labs provide a platform from which a community’s technical challenges can be shared with this international network, and solutions can be co-created. Fab Lab Za’atari will increase the self-sufficiency of the camp, mitigate the burden on Jordan from hosting the camp and reduce foreign aid dependency, while providing practical/engaging educational opportunities. The idea is scalable to refugee camps and disaster relief sites around the world.


The lab will be open to everyone in Za'atari. Our Jordanian and Syrian staff will teach courses ranging from basic safety/usage to advanced instruction on digital and conventional manufacturing tools: 3D printers, laser cutters, CNC routers, electronics, metalworking/woodworking tools, textiles, painting, etc. Special courses will focus on specific challenges: shelter, disabilities, transport, etc. Please see attached user experience map.


We have ongoing initiatives across 3 areas of activity: 1) Research & Development: we co-created 3D-printed prosthetic hands with a Yemeni child and a Jordanian boy, and we're further developing a finger replacement model for a 13-year-old Syrian refugee who lost both legs, an eye and several fingers. We also co-created an echolocation device with a blind Syrian refugee, and we're using a human-centered design approach to create a new open-source 3D-printed prosthetic that will be culturally appropriate in the Middle East. 2) Training on Digital Fabrication Tools: for example we trained Asem, a Syrian refugee/amputee who lost his leg as a paramedic in the war, on 3D printing/coding. He then trained Jordanian prosthetists at the largest prosthetics clinic in Jordan on using 3D printers/software. We also run a 3D design education program in Amman that is free and open to anyone in Jordan. 3) We established a small makerspace in Amman (1.5 hours from Za'atari) for training/R&D


All of our ideas go through a co-creation process with beneficiaries, their families and relevant experts. For instance, the 3D-printed prosthetic hand for the Yemeni boy was made and refined (and continues to be refined) with the boy himself, who asked for a Ben10 design, and with Doctors Without Borders. The ultrasonic navigation device is being refined according to the feedback we get from Ahmad on the aesthetic and functional parameters (e.g., stronger haptic feedback at a shorter distance to objects in front of him). The results of the focus group discussions on Fab Lab Za'atari were overwhelmingly positive. The need for more and better tools was heavily emphasised by survey respondents, one of whom said, “There are many tools in the camp. But these are primitive. We started from scratch here. It is all handmade primitive tools that refugees made to manage their needs and daily lives. Now the camp is developing, and we can make more tools as we need in the facility.”


We're building the world's first digital fabrication lab (Fab Lab) in a refugee camp, with the support of Prof. Neil Gershenfeld, who founded the Fab Lab concept at MIT, and the leadership of the Fab Foundation and Fab Lab Barcelona. While 3D printers are important, it is critical to have a full suite of digital manufacturing tools like CNC routers, laser cutters and milling machines. In combination with conventional power tools, refugees will be able to rapidly prototype nearly any solution. The long-term vision is to create a Google X for the humanitarian sector: a network of makerspaces in conflict zones in which refugees and open-source communities co-create the impossible.


The full suite of digital fabrication equipment and materials to start a Fab Lab costs roughly $150,000. This includes a CNC router, milling machine, laser cutter, 3D scanner, oscilloscope, teleconference equipment, audio/visual equipment, electronics components, sensors, actuators, servo motors, molding/casting, safety equipment, computers and starter materials. We would add another $50,000 for conventional tools, such as welding, saws, lathes, drills, clamps, etc. We have a donor willing to match Amplify's contribution. With a $100,000 grant, we would thus cover the costs of all tools/equipment ($200,000). Please see attached for how we will benefit from design support.


The Fab Lab is an idea that can be implemented immediately and have immediate impact. There are 450 of such community education centers around the world, though none in a refugee camp, where we believe such a facility could have the most impact. The lab will benefit both males and females. In fact, more women (47%) said the lab would have an "extremely high impact" on self-sufficiency than men (30%). Everything about the facility, including male-female access hours, machine selection, access to day care and transportation are being designed maximize the participation of females. We are also building several labs for host communities in Jordan, and making Amman a regional Fab training hub.

SKILL SHARE (optional)

We need experts in human-centered design/ecosystem design. Based on our research, we believe a major challenge will be the huge demand for the lab and the need to regulate access fairly. The politics within the camp are complicated, and getting this right is a huge social design challenge. Moreover, an economist and social designer are needed to help us minimize any negative impacts on the extant economy in the camp. Other needs: graphic designer, hardware/software engineers, crowdfunding expert


Refugee Open Ware is a global humanitarian innovation consortium. We've been operational in Amman for ~1 year and have a team of 20 (mostly volunteers) across the world. ROW builds physical platforms for open innovation in conflict-affected areas, while driving economic growth for host countries.


  • Yes, I have implementation capacity and am interested in and able to make this idea real in my community.
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Team (12)

Dave's profile
Tony's profile
Tony Canning

Role added on team:

"Director of R&D and Training -- Fab Academy Guru"

Barry's profile
Barry Purves

Role added on team:

"Fundraising and Strategic Alliances"

Loay's profile
Loay Malahmeh

Role added on team:

"Founding Partner; President, 3Dmena Social Innovation"

Rakan's profile
Rakan Khamash

Role added on team:

"Creative Director -- one of Jordan's leading 3D artists"

Adam's profile
Adam Arabian

Role added on team:

"Technical Director -- Ph.D. P.E., a professor of mechanical engineering and former Director of Research and Development for Orthocare Innovations, a global leader in high-technology prosthetics development. He was previously lead engineer for the $60 million DARPA-funded “Revolutionizing Prosthetics” program, where he led a global innovation team to the development of what was at the time the most advanced prosthetic arm ever created."

Lana's profile
Lana Awad

Role added on team:

"Artistic Director, Mechanical & Interactive Designer, and Architect, based at Fab Lab Barcelona"

Asem's profile
Asem Hasna

Role added on team:

"Volunteer Assistant Prosthetist, 3D Printing Technician and Trainer on 3D Printing/Modelling -- Former Ambulance Driver / Paramedic in the Syrian Conflict"

Mnary's profile
Mnary Bilal

Role added on team:

"Volunteer Photographer and Videographer -- Former Ambulance Driver / Paramedic in the Syrian Conflict"

Hunmin's profile
Hunmin Koh

Role added on team:

"Technical Genius, Senior R&D Specialist"

Jai's profile
Jai Mexis

Role added on team:

"Humanitarian Architect"

Aleksandra Pronina's profile
Aleksandra Pronina

Role added on team:

"Graphic Designer, Fundraising and Strategic Alliances with European Art Community"


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Photo of Sherri Johnson

What an amazing application for the 3D printer. I can't think of a better use. I am so proud of you. Stay safe.

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