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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"


Join the conversation:

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.

Photo of Dasami Moodley

Dave this is so awesome. Hope you're keeping well.

Photo of Dave Levin

Thank you, Des! So great to hear from you!

Photo of Trevor z Hallstein


This is an impressive undertaking and a great idea around leveraging cutting edge technology with on the ground needs of refugees. Congrats.

Photo of Dave Levin

Thank you so much, Trevor. Very much appreciated!

Photo of OpenIDEO

Congrats on this being today's Featured Contribution!

Photo of Dave Levin

Thank you very much for the opportunity and for your patience in receiving the remainder of our updated submission :)

Photo of Bettina Fliegel

Thank you for sharing your work! Can you describe further the programming you plan to put into place?
How will the projects originate? Is the expectation that the community will bring projects into the lab and ask for assistance? How will students find their way to the lab? Will there be outreach of some kind to both girls and boys? What interactive art projects are planned?
The rehab potential of this work is amazing! Is there a way to combine the making of these prosthetics, with training of some sort in rehabilitation for refugee students? Are there local physical therapists, for example, that might be able to train refugees as assistants? Perhaps there are refugee physical or occupational therapists that can work to create a program?
Please post updates as you develop the lab. Excited to learn more!

Photo of Dave Levin

Hi Bettina,

Thank you so much for your questions. We substantially updated our submission since you commented, but let me explain further. A Fab Lab is a space for innovative education and community development, the idea for which came out of MIT's Center for Bits and Atoms. Anyone can use a Fab Lab and learn the machines it offers, regardless of skill level. Our research study / cultural analysis first asked about basic literacy, numeracy and computer literacy, since digital fabrication tools use designs created on software. We found that 93% of our respondents were literate (96% of males and 88% of females), 91% reported basic math abilities (96% of males and 84% of females) and 58% reported computer literacy (75% of males and 30% of females). The curriculum at Fab Lab Za'atari would thus include basic computer literacy, particularly for the female population. That said, many of the tools we will have are conventional tools that do not require computer literacy.

The next step is a safety and basic usage course on all machines, regardless of skill level. This ensures our management team that everyone in the lab can use the machines without hurting themselves or others. Then members of the community can take courses on individual machines / workshops to improve their skills -- courses ranging from beginner to advanced.

Our facility will prepare refugees to co-create innovative solutions with international Fab Labs (and other experts worldwide), providing leverage to the resources Jordan and the donor community contribute to refugees’ basic needs. Rather than telling the refugees what to make, the lab will provide training, raw materials and access to tools that let them create solutions to the problems they identify as most important. The above are illustrative examples of working prototypes developed with the equipment of a Fab Lab, most of which are open-source, meaning the designs and instructions can be downloaded for free from the internet. We are not saying these designs and products are ready to solve basic needs in Za'atari. We are saying that we will provide refugees with the tools, training, raw materials and linkages to international experts that will allow them to rapidly prototype and develop their own innovative solutions.

Additionally, we will have courses dedicated to specific challenges, such as transportation. Again, these courses would not tell refugees what to create, but rather empower them to create their own solutions with help from our staff and international experts that are pre-selected to provide guidance on the particular challenge addressed by the course.

So in terms of how projects originate we expect to see many permutations. Some community members will come with ideas and solutions they want to build. Some will ask for assistance, but some may not need it. Some will work independently, and some will work with others.

Now, in terms of our staff (Jordanians and Syrians from the camp), we will originate projects that are determined to be of high priority in the camp. We determine this through focus group discussions and expert interviews -- and hopefully with human-centered design experts from IDEO! We plan to have at least 1 female refugee and 1 male refugee as Research & Product Development Officers on our staff, charged with developing innovative solutions. Other members of the community would be highly encouraged to join these efforts.

The outreach we are planning is extensive. Beyond outreach, we believe substantial, ongoing community development is essential to the success of the lab. We have begun this outreach through our 2-month cultural study in the camp, but we are planning further efforts to identify community leaders to help us build the social fabric of the lab. These efforts will be ongoing. We will have a full-time Community Manager at the facility, and we will advertise our services in several ways, especially through word of mouth. If we have sufficient funds (and obtain all required permits) to build our own vehicle, this would be a particularly powerful way to advertise the lab. The outreach will target both male and female refugees. More than that, the cultural study we conducted (performed by a female Jordanian Professor of Conflict Studies) and our designs for the lab specifically ensure that everyone can use the facility and (hopefully) will desire to do so. This entails dividing access to the lab by gender (or having two labs), providing day care services, ensuring access for the disabled, etc.

In terms of interactive art, see the above example of using virtual reality and a robotic camera to enable a disabled woman to feel what it's like to dance. Our focus, at least in the beginning, is to train the community and to provide such examples in order to inspire them to create their own art.

Photo of Dave Levin

In terms of rehab, one of the members of our team is a Syrian refugee who lost his leg as a paramedic in the war. He then took 8 months of training to become an Assistant Prosthetist, and his life mission is to help other amputees get access to prosthetics. So indeed, many refugees may find an interest in getting trained on rehabilitation and prosthetics. This is beyond the scope of the fab lab in Za'atari, which will not be used to produce 3D-printed prosthetics. This activity will be based at His Majesty King Abdullah II's National Prosthetics Center / Medical Innovation Lab in Amman (1.5 hours from Za'atari), which we are helping the Royal Medical Services to build.

Photo of Bettina Fliegel

Thanks for the comprehensive reply Dave!
Have you considered creating a way to give a certification for courses taken and skill levels achieved? From what I have read refugees move around a lot. Might be useful for future opportunities?
You mention that there will be refugees working with your team. Are all Syrian refugees permitted to work in Jordan?
Would be great to use the lab to enhance education elsewhere in the camp. Is this the type of priority that would originate with users? Will you have brainstorming sessions?

I love the idea of creating your own vehicle! Looking forward to seeing that in action!

Photo of Tony Canning

Hi Bettina,
It's a while since you asked this and we have been poring over a report we commissioned within the camp. This is a Needs & Cultural study to better help us understand the issues faced in the camp around access, training and a raft of other issues.

To try to answer your questions:
Certification for any organisation can be a very expensive route. We do have some "pokers in the fire" on this issue but first we want to provide a comprehensive training plan. We're currently developing this and my own background in technology education and work history in FabLab NerveCentre (along with information from the Needs & Cultural study) is very useful here.
The broad approach is to provide compulsory introductory training on the SAFE USE of all machinery. This is a very standard approach in any open learning space and/or educational setting. Alongside the training is the documentation. The training is useless without it - this will be comprehensive and not just a declaration that someone has received training. It's critical to us to take a position that puts us beyond reproach - and taking that position means that we are protecting our users and the facilities.

Refugees working: it's quite a point of discussion with a lot of reports having been produced. The bottom line on this is that we must be respectful of and adhere to Jordanian law. Within the camp this means limited hours and limited pay is permitted.

Enhanced education: Any such facility anywhere in the world, whether in such a specific community or in the centre of an industrialised city, fails before it starts if it does not consciously engage with the community it aims to serve. To reduce our aim down to one very simple phrase: "it's to help refugees". We will definitely be training and facilitating the use of the facility - but it's about facilitating the community and self identified needs - and if we are going to do that right then it's crucial to regularly bring groups together in order to try to identify needs as they come up. We would fail if we got set up and only ever addressed issues from our Needs & Cultural study - the process is a cyclical one which will include reviews of all our activities with the hope of improving, focusing or widening our provision in recognition of the needs of the users.
Specifically, when it comes to courses, we will certainly aim to target young people - but be careful to schedule times for them which won't clash with any schooling they engage with. My own experience with this is that, no matter what the background, there is something creative and engaging for everyone, regardless of age or gender - or pretty much anything else.

I hope that answers your questions! As for the vehicle, I've been doing some sketches and trying to design in a very modular way - it's early but in my mind's eye, I can already see it being used to good effect!


Photo of AMPLIFY Team

Hi Dave,

As you know, we've had some experts take a look at your idea. Below is a comment/question from one of our experts. If you could please spend some time answering the questions that would be great!

"What kind of support would Amplify offer? / How are you thinking of sustainability? "


The Amplify Team

Photo of Dave Levin

Dear Amplify Team,

Thank you very much for your message. We are working on all of the next steps required, and we will post responses as soon as we can. We are small startup with limited resources -- which is why we are applying for funding! -- but I am confident we will have everything ready before the deadline. Thank you very much for the opportunity!

Warmest regards,


Photo of AMPLIFY Team

Sounds good! We understand time constraints and getting everything in by the deadline is the most important. However, if you get some additional information up before the deadline, we'll have a chance to ask you some follow up questions before making our decisions!

Photo of AMPLIFY Team

Congratulations on making it to the Refugee Education Challenge Refinement List, Dave! We’re excited to learn more about the Fab Labs over the course of the next few weeks. To start, we’re interested to get a better sense of how your idea expands learning opportunities for refugees. How might a refugee use a fab lab to improve their vocational opportunities? How will what they produce find a market? One way to help us envision this is to upload a User Experience Map

The consortium that you have assembled behind this idea is really impressive. You’ve also done a lot of research in Za’atari - what are some of the main adaptations you have had to make to Fab labs in order to be applicable to the refugee context? How do you envision using support from the Amplify program? Great to have you in the challenge!

Photo of OpenIDEO

Congrats on making it to the Refinement Phase Dave! We would love it if you can take some time to answer the new Refinement questions that we've added to your original idea submission form. To answer the new questions, hit the Edit Contribution button at the top of your post. Scroll down to the entry fields of the new Refinement questions. Hit Save when you are done editing.

Also, here's a useful tip: When you update the content of your post, it'd be helpful to indicate this in your idea title by adding an extension. For example, you can add the extension " - Update: Experience Maps 5/11" to you idea title. This will be a good way to keep people informed about how your idea is progressing!

Photo of Justine Lippens

Hi Dave!

I am currently working on an end-of-year university project about prosthetics and orthotics in conflict zones. Thank you for sharing your project! I have a couple questions that I hope you may have the answer to.

In the videos I watched relating to your projet in the Za’atari Refugee Camp I have only seen mostly hand prosthetics. However, Assem Hasna mentions in the France 24 coverage that you may be interested in lower limb prosthetics? Is that a projet that is underway? Or are there some hurdles that must be overcome? If so, is it possible for you to share some of the problems that are coming up?
I have read that one problem is the size and the cost of machines that are big enough to print lower limbs. Can you confirm this? What are the potential solutions?

Additionally, I overheard that an issue with 3D leg prosthetics is that they were unable to carry the weight of the the person wearing it. Once again this is information up-to-date?

I was also curious about the infrastructure needed to operate a 3D printer. In Jordan you are in the King Hussein Business Park if I am not mistaken. Would it be possible to have these printers work in more rural zones? (less electricity, dust ..?) Also, how many printers are currently operating? Do you have the number of prosthetics that have been printed and fitted in Za’atari?

I apologize for this sprall of questions! Thank you in advance for your help!
Hope to see a new update soon!

Photo of Tony Canning

Hi Justine,
Tony here, I work with Refugee Open Ware in Amman across all aspects of our wider vision and can offer some insight into your questions.
Lower limb prosthetic: Our work has been limited to upper limb so far due to several considerations - the main one is that in the event of a possible failure (which you have alluded to), a lower limb amputee falls and we must always respect that unintended consequences could arise. We are also under no illusion about the difference between the promise and the reality of additive manufacturing. We are currently investigating genuinely portable 3d scanning & milling solutions in order to potentially develop a pipeline which could reduce (or even eliminate) the uncomfortable, inconvenient and costly transportation of amputees in order to be sized for lower limb sockets.
The main hurdle here is perhaps initial cost. But (for us at least) it's not hard to see how a mobile scanning and digital manufacturing unit with a prosthetist and a prosthetic technician could alleviate several of the on the ground issues - time, family commitments, convenience, lack of transport, cost - could all be helped.
Size and cost: For the kind of unit I mentioned above there are a ton of options. The maker movement has exploded and because of this there are many options for robust machinery. We are massively fortunate to have partners who we regard as being nothing short of excellent. Ultimaker build very robust machines (and are true open-source advocates; something we don't just believe in, we will be sharing as much as we can) which can be easily transported and require minimal set up. If you want to keep dust out of any machine then my own view would be to box them for transport and then use their delivery box to cover them while in use - after cutting out a window in them and covering it with cling film or something similar. Colorfabb completely blew me away - we were really impressed with some of their materials so we called them up - their reaction was to pretty much just ask us "how can we help?"
The above may sound like advertising but it's not - Dave is some kind of legend with all of this stuff - I just give him a hug when he brings great equipment and materials to myself and Asem (who is like a SPONGE for learning!) - and then we all nerd out on what can be done with it!
On the electricity issue: There is only one machine on the market which offers a battery pack that I know of. I've done a lot of reaching out to find out about how the particular manufacturer has set up their machines for ease of use and discovered little support and no community. For scaling a project, it's critical to easily communicate the workings of the machine and this particular manufacturer hasn't really provided that support. Battery and mains/solar combinations are very very possible for any application and would be ideal for rural applications. These are not any kind of wizardry to develop - in fact, it's something we've been looking into just this week. All of our findings for tech support will be published free and open source - just like the code for Ahmed's echo location device.

I hope I have helped answer your questions. Our work spans far wider than just prosthetics and so I really have to wonder if Dave has a time machine or something to commit to the level of work he achieves! Because of this, we all try to take as much pressure from him as we can and so I offer our email address: if you wish to make contact. We are currently trying to develop a collaboration platform where people can contribute and/or "lurk" in order to develop any of the myriad projects we want to put time into. All of the areas we are trying to address are based on the needs of those who we hope to benefit both in and from their development. Hopefully our intended collaborative platform can address real issues for people in humanitarian need in Jordan and beyond.


Photo of OpenIDEO

Hi Dave, interesting post! Any chance you could find an image to go along with it? Images help grab attention and tell a story with higher impact. You should be able to use the Edit Contribution button on the top of your post and follow the instructions to add images from there. Looking forward to seeing more of your inspiring insights on OpenIDEO.

Photo of Dave Levin

Thank you very much. We added a number of photos and videos, most of which were already in the Research phase post. Unfortunately, in migrating these over, we encountered a number of issues, e.g.:
1. Can't add new images in certain places, even to replace existing ones (not sure what the aggregate size limit is for uploading images).
2. After I uploaded videos successfully, I get two problems:
a) I get a red error message that the video won't work, but it actually does when I save the form
b) Sometimes when I go to save the whole form, a previously posted video prevents me from saving, and the error message is that I should wait for the video to upload -- even though it was uploaded before. I end up deleting the video and adding it back again after saving.
3. Near the upload image button, it would be helpful to specify exactly what size parameters work for uploaded photos, as many of the ones we uploaded didn't fit. You can just right click and inspect images to find this information in Chrome, but that maybe different in other browsers.

Hopefully this post may help someone else, in case anyone else experienced similar issues. Overall, really awesome platform you guys developed. Very intuitive and great UX. Thanks for the guidance, and we hope you like the media we uploaded.