Life in the Jordanian desert would be a challenge without electricity – summers can be brutally hot, and winters bitingly cold. In Za’atari and Azraq refugee camps, UNHCR recently established two solar plants, providing some 120,000 refugees with clean energy free of charge. The effects have been life-changing.

Australian UNHCR worker Robert Arcidiacono is currently on mission in Jordan, exploring the impact of electricity on the lives of Syrian refugees and recommending how solar innovations can be used in other refugee camps around the world.

As part of his fact-finding mission, Robert asked refugees in both camps to document how electricity has changed their lives.

While the ability to cool or heat their shelters has made living conditions significantly more comfortable, the positive impacts of solar power have been wide-ranging.

Australian UNHCR worker Robert Arcidiacono at a UNHCR-supported solar plant in Jordan. ©Hiba Judeh/RedR Australia

“Each person’s story provided a different angle on how electricity helps people learn, eat, feel safe, communicate, work, and so on in their day-to-day life,” Robert explains.

As well as the everyday benefits, solar power is helping refugees communicate with loved ones left behind, and rebuild their lives by providing opportunities to study or start a small business.

“For some people, the ability to charge a phone and connect with friends and family back in Syria is important. For others, electricity for a power drill, hair clippers or a sewing machine allows them to earn an income.

“Electricity can mean light to study in the evening, or access to information and courses online. Others value being able to enjoy radio or TV, which can also diffuse tension in shelters on otherwise long, tedious nights.

“As someone in Australia, can you even imagine what your day-to-day life would be like without electricity?”

Solar energy powers this computer education class for Syrian teenagers in Za’atari refugee camp. ©UNHCR/Tanya Habjouqa

“Refugees and displaced people are often represented as helpless and destitute individuals, but this statement couldn’t be further from the truth,” says Robert.

“These are people, like you and I, whose lives have been disrupted in a dramatic way by circumstances out of their control.

“Despite the changed lifestyle and daily challenges, refugees all around the world are some of the most innovative, resilient and optimistic humans I’ve ever met.”

Robert is currently seconded to UNHCR through RedR Australia, part of the DFAT-funded Australia Assists program.

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Reliable electricity in Za’atari refugee camp helps Syrian pastry cook Zakaria work and earn a living. ©UNHCR/S.Baldwin

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