Over the past six years, Australian architect Phoebe Goodwin has worked to shelter refugees and displaced people fleeing violence and conflict.

Through her work as a Site Planner and Shelter Officer with UNHCR, Phoebe has seen the resilience and innovation of refugees who are determined to rebuild their lives.

“It never ceases to amaze me that in every humanitarian operation it is the refugees who spearhead improvements to their shelters,” Phoebe says.

“Especially in terms of their ability to construct improvised homes with such personalised design flair and ingenuity.” 

In Jordan's Za’atari refugee camp, home to around 80,000 Syrian refugees, families have modified their prefabricated containers to create homes.

“It never ceases to amaze me that in every humanitarian operation it is the refugees who spearhead improvements to their shelters.”

“Families have recycled all kinds of scrap materials to create mezzanine levels, entry porches, small gardens, pathways, boundary fences and fountains as water features,” she says.

“For the wider architectural profession, this is a humble reminder that you don’t actually have to be a qualified architect to design beautiful spaces, nor do you need a standard palette of materials or tools.”

“Despite all the suffering that refugees from conflict crises endure to reach a host country, they are still able to rebuild their lives with very little means.”

Phoebe Goodwin is an Australian architect, working as a Site Planner and Shelter Officer with UNHCR. © Supplied

Read also: UNHCR officer Rasha Batarseh on why cash assistance is so vital

Phoebe chose to study architecture to pursue a career in humanitarian and development design after reading about South Africa’s apartheid, global suffering and inequalities.

“From a very young age, I wanted to be an 'aid worker'. I couldn’t stomach the fact that, by pure luck, I was born into a safe, comfortable and loving household where food was never a worry and I had the best possible education.

“Meanwhile, millions around the world are born into poverty and are faced with crises or trauma. I wanted to dedicate my life to bridging the divide and giving back as much as possible to society.”

Today, Phoebe works for UNHCR in Mexico, where she is expanding shelter accommodation, conducting renovations and repairs and installing roof-mounted solar panels to reduce electricity costs.

“All people, not just humanitarians, can bring compassion and empathy to a crisis situation,” she says.

“I am passionate about encouraging and facilitating independence and fostering self-worth.

“Everyone needs a sense of purpose and meaning in life. We should enable people of concern to recreate or reactivate such standings.”

“All people, not just humanitarians, can bring compassion and empathy to a crisis situation.”

In Jordan's Za'atari refugee camps, families have recycled scrap materials to create mezzanine levels, entry porches, small gardens, pathways and even fountains as water features. © Supplied

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