A Better World Starts at Home
From 1 April to 26 May, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency will join the ’A Better World Starts at Home’ campaign in IKEA stores worldwide, to power up refugee communities and create a better world for thousands of people who have been forced to flee home.
Families in exile often struggle with energy poverty, which leads to insecurity, reduced development opportunities, health problems and environmental degradation. Children and women are disproportionately affected.
Together with IKEA Foundation and Practical Action, UNHCR is providing refugees and their host communities access to renewable energy. We will support 60,000 children and families in Rwanda and Jordan, so they can lead safer, healthier and more productive lives.
The lack of renewable energy in and around refugee camps across Rwanda has remained an ongoing challenge. For example, cooking meals, studying at night or growing businesses are time-consuming and often difficult to complete.
Thanks to IKEA Foundation, we are making sure that 50,000 people, in and around Kigeme, Nyabiheke, and Gihembe refugee camps, have increased access to renewable energy for lighting, cooking and essential appliances.
The financial situation of Syrian refugees in Jordan is troubling: approximately 80% live below the poverty line. They struggle to pay their monthly expenses – of which rent and utilities consume the most income.
In the city of Irbid, we are increasing access to renewable energy for 10,000 refugees and people from the host community. By providing solar-powered water heating and electricity systems to low-income homes, schools and community centres, we, together with IKEA Foundation, are making sure people can live with dignity.
Kirakunda, the student
Kirakunda is a 16-year-old Congolese refugee. She is polite, well-mannered and reflects a maturity and quiet confidence beyond her years.
She says that her family fled from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to Rwanda because of violence. When asked about her life in Gihembe camp, Kirakunda reflects, “Life in the camp is not easy… we have a number of needs that we cannot meet.”
Despite these challenges, Kirakunda finds strength in Rwanda’s progressive education policies that enable her to attend school.
“The thing that makes me strong is getting an education,” she says. “My favourite subject is biology.”
She smiles as she shares her dream: “When I grow up I would like to be a doctor.”
For Kirakunda, however, studying to become a doctor is challenged by her inability to complete her homework.
Her daily routine consists of waking up and cleaning the house, going to school, coming home to do house chores and cooking dinner. “By the time I finish cooking, I feel tired. I’m sleepy and I don’t have time to review my subjects.”
When she does have energy, Kirakunda tries to do her homework. To study without electricity, Kirakunda relies on a solar lantern, whose power is limited by the lack of sun or the prevalence of rain. She also tries to use candles, which offer limited light and burn through quickly.
The option of studying outside the camp, in a place where electricity may be available is not allowed because the lack of light in the camp makes it unsafe for girls and women to walk around. “I am not allowed to go outside in the night,” Kirakunda says.
The idea of electricity in the camp excites her: “Light would make it very easy to study.”
Facts & Figures
145,895 refugees are in Rwanda
762,420 refugees are in Jordan
48,335 refugees are in Rwanda’s Kigeme, Nyabiheke, and Gihembe camps
140,607 refugees are in Jordan’s Irbid governorate
Most refugees in Rwanda come from DRC and Burundi
Most refugees in Jordan come from Syria, Iraq and Yemen
79% of refugees in Rwanda live in camps
83% of refugees in Jordan live outside camps in urban areas
Statistics as of March 2019
Akram, the father
Six years ago, Akram’s farm was famous for its crops, particularly okra and olives. He was a well-respected farmer in Daraa, one of the centres of agriculture in Syria.
Today, he’s in Jordan; the house where he lived with his wife and seven children, looted and burned.
“We fled Syria because of war and unrest,” Akram explains. “Things went from bad to worse because of the terror. I chose to leave to protect my family.”
Akram and his family fled until they reached Za’atari refugee camp. They spent a week there before moving to the Irbid area, where they have lived ever since.
For three years, Akram and his family looked for a suitable and affordable place to live, which wasn’t easy on their limited income. But in 2016, Akram found an apartment that reminded him of what he left behind. There was a small yard filled with plants and crops: tomatoes, oranges, olives and kumquats, just to name a few.
But the apartment is still far from ideal.
“Our apartment is nice and quiet, but we suffer when the weather is cold,” he explains. “It’s really affected my family’s health, particularly my son’s asthma.”
Due to his uncertain job prospects, Akram’s family struggles to pay their monthly utility bills. It’s a challenge to balance essentials like food and health care with the high costs of energy expenses. They use gas cylinders and heat water on their stove to save on electrical costs.
For refugees like Akram, high energy bills and unreliable systems hinder self-sufficiency and dreams of a better life. But Akram cultivates hopes for his family’s future.
“I hope my children finish their education and are independent,” he says. “I hope we all have good and peaceful lives again.”