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Za’atari Action

Za’ atari Action (Living together) is a project which has evolved out of the project ‘Dress For Our Time’, an artefact, which used a de commissioned UNHCR refugee tent to create a dress to engage the public with the Refugee crisis and Climate Change, at key moments of global and social significance.

The project sought to create a new opportunity to research into counter narratives for fashion’s use and for design to play an activist role.

In 2016, Helen visited Za’atari Refugee Camp, Jordan (where the tent originated) in her capacity as an academic and began, through conversation, to co create with the refugees, projects, which responded to their direct needs and which addressed educational, livelihood and enterprise creation opportunities, focusing on women and young girls at the camp.

Project Rationale

Helen was interested in finding new ways for fashion, design and art to be put in service to bettering life at Za’atari and by extension, begin to understand what role the creative arts might play in developing new forms of knowledge, through reciprocal and collaborative relationships with refugees and NGO’s at the camp.

Climate change, war and its consequences, will continue to force people to flee for their lives in ever increasing numbers, whilst the rest of the world is unsure how to respond – everything we learn in Za’atari is teaching us something of value for what it means to lose your home, start your life again and what the impacts are for the countries which host people who have had no choice, but to flee.

Project Team

The project has been funded by Unilever for 5 consecutive years.

Partners include, Sheffield University, Givaudan Paris/ Dubai, UNHCR UK, UNHCR Jordan, NRC (Norwegian Refugee Council), IRD (International Refugee Development), Oxfam.

The project website shares film and blog posts as mechanisms to evidence the nature of the projects developed and delivered in Za’atari.

Twitter: @profhelenstorey – Instagram: dress4ourtime



Working on action led projects in the camp have shown us that there is an evolving process each time as follows:

  1. Meeting and listening to different communities of Syrians to understand what would be of value and what the greatest challenges to life are.
  2. A short period of reflection
  3. Ideas, understandings and interpretations are shared back with communities.
  4. A process of equal co creation to expand and enrich the project further and plan the practical delivery plan.
  5. Planning and logistics back in the UK – the right team, materials, risk assessments, travel, security arrangements, transport etc.
  6. Back to the camp to deliver the project with NGO support.
  7. Adjustment to the project in real time, depending on the realities of camp life at the time of delivery.
  8. Identification of what is of value and what people would like to share or continue beyond the length of time we are there.
  9. Sustainable plan for the best of projects to continue without us, resources, skills, space, evaluation.
  10. Capturing and sharing process and outcomes through social media and blog posts.

This way of working means that regular time in camp is essential, as is the follow up process after a project to secure sustainable means for what has worked to continue to roll out without our presence.

Outputs and Impacts

All outputs and impacts can be found on the project website:

For 2019, UNHCR Jordan have created a new role for Helen, as ‘Za’atari Artist in Residence’. She will be seconded to the camp for the year, building on projects which have had positive impact in the camp, as well as respond in real time, to the challenges that funding cuts and to quality of life will bring.

Learnings, Findings and Reflections

Working in a refugee camp is a unique experience and challenges at all levels, from what you think you know, to what you thought you believed.

It’s like starting again.

We have had to learn how re assess what urgency and priority means and how to hold extremes, whilst being mindful of how many forms of difference; cultural, political, emotional, psychological, must shape and inform our work and intentions.

Za’atari has to undo you at some level and then it is possible through both humility, but also through a form of creative audacity, to create something of value together.

Reciprocity rules!