Almost every day we hear about the political unrest in Syria. People are trying to escape from there, to reunite with their loved ones and to live a better life in a more peaceful country. Although governments are doing their part in rehabilitation, there are individuals who are enabling social change by making the lives of refugees better. We met one such individual – Sanjana Paramhans who was born in Lucknow, to know more about her work.

“Some of the people were escaping on boats, to any place that would accept them. They took only their most deeply personal belongings with them, never knowing if they would come back again; if they would ever be able to see their homes.”

In 2012, Sanjana moved to New York to pursue a degree in design from Pratt University. It was in New York that she met people from different backgrounds and cultures. This is when she got to know the struggles of people living in Syria and around, where there was unrest. Sanjana recalls, “There was hopelessness; a sense of inevitability. Some of the people were escaping on boats, to any place that would accept them. They took only their most deeply personal belongings with them, never knowing if they would come back again; if they would ever be able to see their homes. In a strange sense, this resonated with me. All the moving and displacement from country to country when I was young; making friends and then losing them.”

Sanjana Paramahans, social designer from New York
Sanjana Paramahans, social designer from New York

She says that she probably went through very little of the pain that refugees have to go through, but she decided that she wanted to help out in whatever way she could. This is when she took her love for designing and started working on a temporary home which would give shelter to refugees.

Change Through Design

Her prototype consisted of a modular piece of furniture that consists of a bed, storage and a privacy panel for a single person. It can be joined with others for larger families, and most importantly, is distributed to the people flat-packed and can be built in less than 30 minutes. Her shelter can be used in many different countries, as a temporary stay for refugees when they arrive. It is useful because it is foldable, and once used by a country, can be shipped to other places too.

“Design is not just pretty lights and wallpapers, it is an enabler of social change.”

Other than making a prototype refugee shelter, Sanjana is also working on an app that helps refugee youth adjust to their new life after resettlement. A lot of the refugees who manage to escape war zones are young children or adolescents and they need guidance and help to live their lives. Therefore, Sanjana built an app that provides mentorship programmes to the youth. In addition to its refugee-mentor matching feature, the app has few other features including job searches, education opportunities, language classes, workshops, social events and more.

Emergency Refugee Shelter by Sanjana Paramhans
Emergency Refugee Shelter by Sanjana Paramhans

Driving Social Change

Sanjana wants to continue to be a social designer in the future, driving a lot of social change. She says, “Enabling social change is what I want to do long-term. In the future, I see myself as a working as a social designer, using design and design thinking as tools to deal with economic and social challenges in the world.” She is currently working with an Indian NGO called Lone Pack, which deals with issues of mental health, “There is still a stigma attached to mental health in India, and is classified under the same section as Cancer or Blindness.  This, I believe, is atrocious.  I try to design campaigns in order to attract more people in spread awareness about this pressing issue. I design their social campaigns to increase awareness and acceptability.”

She believes that you can drive change through any medium, and she is doing so through design, “I truly believe that, design stimulates people to behave and function a certain way — it can condition and control their actions and reactions. Design is not just pretty lights and wallpapers, it is an enabler of social change.”

Pic credits: Sanjana Paramhans

Also read: My Purpose Is To Bring Joy To Kids with Cancer: Nikita Padora, Nargis Dutt Foundation
Read more stories by Nikhita Sanotra

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