Refugee children design their own climate solutions

Attakora, a seven-year-old refugee from Ghana, has fun with a laser at one of the Designation workshops (Theirworld/Anke Teunissen)

A project supported by Theirworld in the Netherlands allows displaced children to explore the effects of climate change and how to come up with their own solutions.

Refugee children have so much to cope with. A new country, a strange language and a different culture.

Expecting them also to understand the climate crisis and its impact on people and the planet could be daunting.

But a project supported by Theirworld in the Netherlands has been doing just that – by educating and coaching refugees aged eight to 12 about climate change.

Ten-year-olds Vasiafrom Moldava and Vitali from Ukraine work at a classroom table (Theirworld/Anke Teunissen)

At workshops run by Designathon Works in Amsterdam, dozens of children – who speak a variety of languages and have limited Dutch – used drawings, colouring and models to explore the effects of climate change and how to tackle issues such as flooding and drought.

This gave them the opportunity to come up with their own ways of explaining and solving some of the most pressing problems in the Netherlands and their home countries.

Refugee students having fun at a workshop are Ali, 10, from Syria; Khirdar, 10, from Iraq; Offei, 10, from Ghana; and Leroy, eight, from Ghana (Theirworld/Anke Teunissen)

“It’s very important that children from a refugee background receive this kind of education. They must not be left behind,” said Ina Conkic, co-founder of Designathon Works, a foundation that empowers children to design a better world.

“We need to give them climate literacy. We don’t want to scare them, we want to guide them. Children are the catalyst for change.

Students choose items to use in their models (Theirworld/Anke Teunissen)

“In the workshops, children communicated with their hands, through the materials they were using and the things they were making. That was wonderful to see.

“We saw lots of solar panels and wind turbines. They were putting into practice what they learned.”

Arsin, 12, from Iran has fun learning about climate change and exploring solutions to the issues (Theirworld/Anke Teunissen)

The workshops are part of an important Theirworld-supported pilot project called Leave No One Behind, which has the potential to scale up internationally.

Floods, storms and droughts displaced more than 40 million children in the past six years, according to a United Nations report on climate change.

A student-designed wind turbine produced at one of the Designathon workshops (Theirworld/Anke Teunissen)

Designathon Works’ climate coaching project has been running at the De Kosmopoliet school for refugees.The workshops element of the project was held over five days and involved 86 refugee children and 24 children from a regular school in Amsterdam.

After learning and understanding about the climate crisis, the refugee children – with the help of the Designathon team – worked in in small groups to come up with drawings and prototype models to demonstrate the problems and solutions.

Corinne Genestay from Designathon Works shares information with student Sham (Theirworld/Anke Teunissen)

The children spent another day pitching and explaining their solution to classmates and teachers. Then Dutch students from a local school visited to see their work and learn about climate action.

Angela Solomon, Theirworld’s Senior Advisor for Innovation, Projects and Research, watched the workshops in action. She said: “We found the whole school buzzing with energy. In each classroom the children were working in groups on their prototype solutions.

A student’s drawing shows how helicopters could be used to sow seeds and water plants (Theirworld/Anke Teunissen)

“It was inspiring to see how thoughtful the children’s ideas were. For example, one group of children combined solar energy systems for Syria with wind power for the Netherlands – representing their former and current homes.

“The teachers and facilitators were so inclusive and patient with all the children, creating a genuinely warm and welcoming environment.

“There was so much energy and enthusiasm from the Designation team and a real focus on impact and learning. It was a great experience to see this project in action.”

Theirworld’s support for the project is made possible thanks to players of the Nationale Postcode Loterij (Dutch Postcode Lottery).