Refugees Map Out New Careers through RefuGIS Activity

At Za’atari Refugee Camp in Jordan, there are innovators, problem-solvers, and dreamers of all kinds. Tariq, an educator who fled Syria during the war, is one of many camp residents who is taking on a new endeavor to find a new career path.

During his time in the camp, Tariq started his own business as a freelancer on the Jordanian online digital marketplace Khamsat. He had saved up for his own computer so he could take on more work. He provides services ranging from data analysis to geographic information tasks. With this new job, he is attracting new customers and providing for his family. “I create maps and questionnaires, collect data from the field, analyze them, and offer many courses and electronic services,” he said.

All of this is possible because he joined the RefuGIS program at the camp’s Innovation Lab.

The RefuGIS program trains refugees in geographic information systems (GIS) at the Innovation Lab, where camp residents have access to computers and other technology. Tariq was immediately drawn to the training and could imagine the skills he gained from the program as a means to provide for his family in the future.

man sitting at desk working on laptop

Through the skills he gained from the RefuGIS courses, Tariq can work on data-based projects that benefit his community.

The Innovation Lab is a technology-focused community center in the camp that is operated by Blumont through the UNHCR-funded Uplift program. Uplift provides opportunities in the camp through activities involving community engagement, education, and career building. “These courses equip us with the essential expertise in this field, and with passion and determination, we can access promising employment prospects,” Tariq said. Courses at the Innovation Lab are free, giving camp residents the chance to pursue new hobbies and interests without inhibitive costs.

“I have the capability to establish my own home-based and online business, generating income that supports my livelihood,” shared Tariq.

RefuGIS volunteers learn how to map, visualize, and analyze geographic information collected at the camp. The RefuGIS team uses the data to inform solutions to help make the camp a better place to live for their families and neighbors.

For example, Tariq utilized his new skills to map out fire-related incidents, which can help camp officials understand where problems occur most and find ways to reduce the frequency of these accidents.

Tariq poured his heart into the GIS activities, seeing them as a pathway to a new career that he could start from the camp. In addition to his freelance work, “Currently, I work as a paid volunteer at Blumont with the GIS team where I harness all the skills I had learned in previous trainings,” Tariq explained.

Looking back, Tariq may not have ever imagined that his career would change, or even that he would become a refugee. But he encourages other people in his community to learn new skills and lean into their interests. “Embrace your passion for the field that you like to learn new skills in,” Tariq said. Once an educator, Tariq is now giving back to his community in a new way using his GIS abilities.