Although the Syrian crisis entered its eighth year, relief agencies are still predominantly using tents for the provision of shelter and education. The average life span of a tent is 6 months, and the fabric and support elements are not adequate for the vicissitudes of the turbulent weather in semi-arid regions of the Middle East. In a recent study conducted by CCECS and the Harvard Program in Refugee Trauma (HPRT) in Lebanon, an overwhelming number of refugee children and their parents reported that inadequate built environment was among the main reasons for high dropout rates in refugee education centers.
The design intervention Ghata (Arabic word for cover) was framed within this complex landscape of humanitarian needs and national constraints, and the concept derived from refugees' own shelter construction practices. The Ghata project, designed in 2012 by CCECS, brings education to refugees in collective shelters and informal tented settlements during a protracted crisis, and builds capacity for educational continuity upon their return home. It is a holistic restorative built environment that makes high quality education accessible, increases knowledge attainment, reduces level of distress, and nurtures hope among displaced and refugee communities.
The design of the Ghata unit is based on refugees' shelter building strategies using low-cost material found abundantly in local markets. It takes two refugees six hours to assemble a 20 square meter unit, three hours to disassemble it for reassembly in another location. The unit endures severe weather conditions with a lifespan that extends between 10 to 15 years, which is almost equal to the average stay of refugees during protracted crisis. Its portable and scalable model is designed to respond to the complex humanitarian needs and national constraints now and in the day after the crisis ends. Accordingly, the portable structure conforms to simplicity, portability, adaptability, scalability, climatic responsiveness, and economic efficiency.
To date, 12 portable school campuses located within refugees' Informal Tented Settlements and Collective Shelters have been assembled, serving around 5000 students annually. Two of which are primary education schools established in 2015 with funding from Reach Out to Asia (ROTA) in partnership with Kayany Foundation. Ghatas address key challenges hindering refugee access to education through: 1) Delivery of accredited curriculum by the Ministry of Education and Higher Education for primary and middle school, vocational training, and university preparatory programs where refugees live; 2) Design specifications ensuring durable Child Friendly classrooms for safe and quality learning; 3) The combination of its innovative educational structure and learner-center teaching approach, which incorporates local knowledge and capacity building by and for refugees; and 4) Adaptability for holistic educational programs at all levels – Ghatas have been used as creative educational classes, healthy kitchens, computer rooms, science labs, and to facilitate local relief efforts and cultural activities.
Ghata has transformed refugee education in non-formal settings during crises through its impactful design. Access to quality education from grade-school through university is imperative as an investment in the potential of young refugees as future leaders for relief, reconstruction and recovery in post-conflict Syria. Ghata structures represent an ordered environment, offering refugees a sense of stability and normalcy in the midst of chaos and uncertainties.