BURUNDI — A library can be a community center as well as a repository of information. But often there are no libraries near refugee camps, and the cost of building a brick and mortar structure is prohibitive. A moveable library called the Idea Box is the innovation of Libraries without Borders. The project is a safe space full of books and technology equivalent to a small town library servicing up to 5,000 users. Refugees in Burundi were the first group offered the Idea Box, which gave them access to a global community.
The Idea Box provides a space equipped with four laptops, 15 tablets, 250 paperback books, 50 e-readers with thousands of e-books, satellite internet connectivity hardware and a generator. It also includes a television and a projector, five HD cameras, board games, arts and crafts, puppets, and drama and acting supplies.
Relief agencies must address the immediate needs of food, shelter, and medical issues when refugees flee their country. Once met, the focus can turn to the education, community-building and job training that offer a path of hope for every refugee living in the unfamiliar territory.
By the beginning of 2014, half a million refugees had fled the Congo due to various conflicts since the 1960s. The tiny African nation of Burundi became home to more than 4,000 of these refugees, housed in the Musasa and Kavumu camps. Musasa and Kavumu were pilot locations for the Ideas Box developed by Libraries Without Borders in collaboration with U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the Alexander Soros Foundation, Pierre Bellon Association and Starck Network.
The Ideas Box is a library and media center that takes 20 minutes to assemble. Chairs emerge from compact, colorful shipping crates, and the crates fold out into tables. Within the first three months of the Ideas Box arriving, the refugees in Burundi logged 24,000 visits and more than 3,000 registered users.
Libraries without Borders is tackling issues to improve the lives of refugees with 21st-century solutions. The NGO began in 2007 with a goal to expand access to information and education to vulnerable populations. Since 2007, more than million people have benefited from its programs, designed to help the defenseless thrive through access to information, education and culture. With the success of the first Ideas Boxes for refugees in Burundi, the program has expanded into Rwanda, Tanzania, and Kenya.
One refugee in the Kavumu camp used the Ideas Box to publish The Kavumu Gazette, a weekly newspaper for refugees. The former journalist now uses the Ideas Box to teach other refugees how to collect stories, write, edit and publish. The refugees also use the Ideas Box to access MOOCs (massively open online courses). A world of learning and creativity awaits refugees in Burundi who wander into the mobile space.
There are many ways to feed a person. Food relief carries nutrition and provides survival. Libraries and community centers feed the soul and allow people in vulnerable situations to empower themselves. As of February 2017, 100 Ideas Boxes can be found in 17 countries across three continents, giving refugees around the world tools to grow intellectually and economically.
– Jene Cates