[ January 2020 -Originally posted on Low-tech with Refugees ]
Winter has arrived on the island of Lesbos where more than 20,000 refugees are forced to live in harsh conditions. Our team has grown, currently counting over 25 volunteers — 15 of whom are refugees. More than 1,200 people have participated in our various activities, created Low-tech solutions, borrowed bicycles and/or had their personal belongings repaired this December.
Our team is driven to fulfil the needs of refugees on the island, particularly focusing on improving their living conditions. The Low-tech Makerspace crafted, scheduled and facilitated numerous activities — discover more below:
The Low-tech Makerspace
The Makerspace is continually growing. We created a space specifically crafted for projects involving wood and metal work, with meticulous emphasis on safety and security. Our bike program inherited a new centralized storage facility, provided by Bikes For Friends, a bike program launched by the One Happy Family Community Centre.
Additionally, our Ceramic House has expanded, allowing for a warmer, more accessible and participatory environment for our winter workshops.
Many people attended the wood workshops and with wood from pallets, were able to create beautiful pieces of furniture such as tables, chairs, cupboards, etc.
With the number of people living in tents increasing, many residents of Lesbos’ main camps (Moria, Kara Tepe, Pikpa) came to build reinforcement structures for their tents. Our two principal carpenters are our main line of support before and during the construction.
With the help of Andre, one of our many wonderful volunteers, who brought several thousands of screws from Germany, we have assisted more than 100 families to live in better conditions.
They recently started to make small objects out of wood, this attracts a lot of people, making things for decorations or as Christmas gifts to their beloved ones.
In recent weeks, it was nearly impossible to pass in the vicinity of Low-tech Makerspace without hearing the sounds of cutting, grinding and welding from our most recent projects. Our welders have found their momentum and are constantly building stoves, fixing strollers and welding objects deemed broken.
More and more people are coming for various reasons. Now that it is well known that in the Low-tech Makerspace, one can find assistance, tools and materials for nearly every building project. We have had a huge uptick in our amateur and more experienced visitors looking to materialise projects and fix what is no longer functional.
To date, our bike activity has increased exponentially — we have now four full time bike mechanics from the refugee community, who assist in reparation and teach an average of 200 people per month to fix and maintain their bikes.
Thanks to Andreas Muller and Heimatstern e.V., we recently received a container from Germany filled with 260 bicycles! The bikes were in great shape, requiring minimal upgrades and are being repaired and maintained by refugees at the Low-tech Makerspace.
This wonderful donation has allowed us to increase our bike inventory and allow many more people to borrow bicycles.
Unmistakably, if you visit the Low-tech Makerspace, you will see our vertically aligned bicycle parking and storage that we have created to store the many bikes borrowed on a daily basis. Today, our capacity reaches approximately 50 rentals per day, although with more bikes, we would be capable of reaching even more people. Utilising bicycles tangibly enhances people’s ease of mobility and sense of autonomy, in addition to serving as one of the most inexpensive, sustainable and environmentally friendly modes of transportation.
Our electronics activities have increased fruitfully in most recent months. We have now a team of three specialists who fix and teach those interested in learning how to fix their cell phones, headphones, fans and other electronics.
We have also launched a power-bank program through several workshops to provide people with the know-how to transform an unused battery from an old computer into a personal battery, equipped with a torch, fulfilling one full charge to an uncharged cell phone. Electricity is in huge demand within the refugee camps, where power shortages are expected. These power-banks permit those without access to sustainable energy sources to charge their cellphones at their discretion, and more importantly keep them charged. As cellphones are vital to the ways in which we communicate today, we hope that maintaining a stable energy source will, in a small way, improve the living conditions of those living in the camps.
Another successful program that grew enormously in the past months, particularly with the help of Amelie — a ceramicist on a bike tour who stayed with us for a couple of weeks — we were able to train three refugees in ‘all things ceramics’ that are now able to run the Ceramic House autonomously.
Following the general interest of the community, the Ceramics House has a constant stream of visitors, experienced or otherwise, creating works of art from clay.
We now run bi-weekly workshops where those interested can learn how to make their own cup, bowl, vase and plate in addition to its coupled decoration once the material is dry. Subsequently, there is a local ceramicist providing weekly training into the functionality of a potter’s wheel, from clay to plate all from locally sourced material.
Additionally, similar workshops with young students of the International School of Peace are held weekly where the myriad works of art are created.
To ensure these activities remain sustainable, both in attendance and form during the winter months, we have created a wooden structure encapsulating all of our wonderful activities in a dry, indoor setting — no matter the weather, the pottery wheel will spin.
Low-tech solutions for the winter
During the winter season, one of the biggest needs of refugees in Lesbos’ camps is maintaining a warm environment. Tents are not equipped with heating and with frequent shortages of electricity, electric heaters are simply not sustainable, let alone safe. The Low-tech Makerspace is developing free, accessible solutions to keep tents warm.
Rocket stoves create centralised heating stations where refugees can seek warmth, boil water, and even prepare food. The stoves are made of recycled materials found on the island; such as empty cans, and are controlled sustainable, safer and than open fires, which are regular occurrences in the camps. People can create stoves of different sizes, such as small stoves to boil water and larger stoves to heat bigger spaces.
Thanks to a large group of lowtech explorers, we are able to consistently improve the efficiency in construction of the rocket stoves in order to reduce the amount of materials needed for heating and cooking.
Furthermore, insulation mattresses are sourced from reclaimed materials, glueing together foam from life jackets and wrapped in emergency blankets and plastic sheets found on the island and regularly excluded from disposal sites due to inondation and lack of desire. These materials, often thrown into dumps, sit for months, even years without use. The mattresses keep people warm within tents, situated between and individual and the ground floor, and can also serve as heat-seeking panels for external use when attached to the outside of tents.
In recent months, our volunteers have created two models of low-tech washing machines that do not require a power source.
The first prototype is made of two reclaimed plastic containers of different sizes equipped with a plunger. The smaller container has several perforations and is placed inside the larger container. Water and soap are added to the receptacles and the plunger is then inserted and moved up and down to rinse and wash clothes through suction power.
This model is incredibly effective and highly appreciated by visitors who have come to create their own. More than 20 models have been made by those living in the camps and are used regularly!
The second prototype is a pedal washer built from a broken washing machine and a bicycle. The former is connected to a mounted bicycle with a bike chain and spins through pedal power. Clothes are placed inside, in combination with hot water and soap, washed with minimal effort, expanding the potential of faster spin cycles, therefore reducing water consumption and drying time. Our bicycle-washing machine prototype is located in front of the Low-tech makerspace and free of use.
With the surplus of bicycle tires tarnished with punctures and tears, we have spent much time contemplating alternative uses and strategies to incorporate them back into the circular economy we have developed in the Low-tech Makerspace — and voila, belts! The construction of our belts demand a tire with limited tears and rips, punctures are okay, so the structure of the material is conducive to an efficient belt. With regard to material and time, these belts can be assembled in just a few hours and the lasting benefit is invaluable.
During the last few months, we began a collaboration with the Women’s Space, a fellow partner organization within One Happy Family Community Centre and a place where women can take part in many activities for females only, facilitating an inclusive, safe space that may not be felt elsewhere. The Low-tech Makerspace is a place often inundated by men, hence not always making women feel comfortable. This is why we find it essential to work alongside the Women’s Space to collaborate on activities so everyone can have agency and feel represented.
Every Monday with our volunteers, we hold workshops to have a space where knowledge can be exchanged, specifically with regard to how to use a variety of tools for construction and reparation. All participants in the workshops are very excited and have already created bookshelves and a shoe rack with several more projects in sight. Additionally, the manual washing machine workshop gained much traction and we are excited for more activities to come.
We are always thankful for our collaborations with partners and other NGOs. Attaining our common goals is easier when unity is strength!
We would like to especially thank :
- MVI — Medical Volunteers International for letting us use their space in front of the Olive Grove. We were able to make insulation mattresses with the people, closer to where there is the greatest need.
- Zaporeak for letting us use their van to collect and deliver foam from lifejackets to the Low-tech Makerspace.
- Attika for providing us with many pallets and clothes/shoes for our team.
- Movement on the Ground for thinking of us when they had broken pallets.
And most of all we thank the whole team of One Happy Family Community Centre, without whom nothing would be possible — thank you for allowing us to grow and to continue creating for the people.
Read our other articles: