Low-tech with Refugees

The project ‘Low-tech with Refugees’ aims to improve the resilience and autonomy of exiled people, whilst promoting the sustainable development of the local area, through the diffusion of low-tech skills and systems.

Since 2018, when Marjolaine Bert started the project in Lesvos, Greece, Low-tech with Refugees has already impacted more than 8,000 people, including trainees and workshop participants. Lesvos is a Greek island hosting one of the biggest European refugee camps.

In line with low-tech characteristics (useful, accessible and sustainable), Low-tech with Refugees works to give value and advance an individual’s knowledge and skills, based in areas such as eco-construction, bike repairs and maintenance, or permaculture.

The first Low-tech Makerspace was developed on Lesvos, and now new Low-tech Makerspaces are being developed in Briançon (on the mountainous French-Italian border) and in Marseilles (near the Mediterranean coast, in France’s poorest district). 

In each of these places, the principles of low-tech have guided projects such as: transforming washed-up life jackets into mattresses, creating benches out of old skis, crafting rocket stoves, and using discarded laptop batteries to build power banks. 

These collaborative projects support refugees to become active agents in the growth of their skills-base by: drawing on the pre-existing ecological-manual know-how, experience held by refugees (so often overlooked in our society), peer-to-peer teaching, Low-tech has been able to transcend cultural and linguistic boundaries and build useful low-tech goods collaboratively.

As well as promoting pre-existing interests and abilities, Low-tech with Refugees works to open doors to other sustainable livelihoods for refugees. They do this through cooperating with local businesses, organising work placements to gain experience and professional insight. This helps individuals grow their socio-professional status and settle into the local economy, while getting one-to-one guidance from the Low-tech with Refugees integration team. Refugees have been able to reclaim their future on an individual and collective level, feel empowered and become more resilient. 

Refugees who participated in the 2021 Permaculture Design Course in Marseilles reflect on their experience [Translated from French]:

The first day, during the session, I understood straight away that I was taking a step towards something which makes sense for humankind, as well as for earth. The more days that passed, the more I loved the course. I was learning more and more. It’s been a super experience for me. I’ve done many courses but this one was very different. This course is the most important for me, and the one in which I have learnt the most

 Yacoub, 32, Libya

I loved the course, the way in which each of us fit in. Many beautiful encounters as well.”

Mamoudou, 26, Guinée.

In Marseilles, Low-tech with Refugees runs a variety of workshops aimed at promoting autonomy and developing low-tech know-how. Each week there are low-tech workshops where volunteers and refugees work together on projects such as building solar ovens, phone repair, bike repair, and permaculture, alongside workshops with a diverse range of local partners. The project recently settled into a huge Low-tech Markerspace, and the team is currently working on ensuring that the space is welcoming and well-equipped for an official opening coming soon. In the future, this space will host permaculture training, as well as several volunteer-based community projects, in order to continue the spread of low-tech systems and knowledge.

The project is carried by the French non-profit organization named EKO!, which means ‘beginning’ in Esperanto.

By Marjolaine Bert

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