Aidex Voices

What is The Incredible Ordinary Campaign all about?

The Incredible Ordinary campaign aims to connect people across Europe with refugee families in Turkey by celebrating the right to make ordinary decisions through an experiential pop-up ‘shop’.

On an average day, we make thousands of seemingly insignificant decisions: what shall I cook for lunch? What present should we buy our child for their birthday? We take these ordinary decisions for granted. Yet refugee families are often unable to make these kind of decisions for themselves.

War and displacement have put the most ordinary things out of the reach for many displaced people. Even the basic choices we make every day have become incredible to them. The ability to choose restores freedom, restores dignity and identity.

That’s why the World Food Programme and the European Union established the Emergency Social Safety Net (ESSN). The ESSN is helping around 1.4 million vulnerable refugees in Turkey pay for their basic needs and restore a sense of normalcy to their lives, by providing them with a debit card that is topped up with cash each month.

At the centre of the campaign is the Incredible Ordinary pop-up shop. Through this shop, which has travelled through five European cities, people can discover the stories of eight refuge families who endured extreme hardship and came out the other end with the help of the ESSN card.

What inspired this initiative?

Turkey is home to the largest refugee population in the world, hosting almost 4 million refugees, the majority of whom are from Syria. Forced to leave their homes, belongings and lives behind, even the most ordinary things are out of these people’s reach. Being able to make basic choices has become incredible for them.

The Emergency Social Safety Net (ESSN) programme gives the most vulnerable refugees – nearly 1.4 million – back the ability to make ordinary choices, by providing them with cash assistance every month. We also want to show Europeans that it’s their generous support that has made these seemingly ordinary, yet incredible choices possible for millions of refugees.

Each one of these refugees has an important and relevant story to tell. With the Incredible Ordinary campaign, we want to help refugee families tell their story and remind everyone that ordinary can be incredible.

Where has it been so far and what impact has it had?

The Incredible Ordinary pop-up shop has passed through five big cities in Europe – Paris, Milan, Berlin, Warsaw and Amsterdam – and will now be displayed at AidEx in Brussels.

The shop provides an immersive experience of what shopping is like for refugees in Turkey: one step and you find yourself in a supermarket, but not one you recognise. The products on the shelves are both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time.

There are bottles of milk, fresh bread, jars of chocolate spread and normal household items. In shops like this, refugee families that receive assistance under the ESSN programme can buy the things they need. Through tablets placed across the shop, visitors can listen to the stories of eight Syrian families and discover how this debit card brought change and a sense of normalcy back to their lives.

People learn about the lives of refugees in Turkey, their hardships and the things that make them happy. Visitors are reminded that things that might not seem so essential — a little treat, a taste of home — are in fact important to give refugees back the ordinary life we all take for granted.

We have received both curious and emotional reactions from many of us visitors across Europe. For many people, it’s the first time they have realised that this assistance is thanks to unprecedented support from Europeans like themselves. For others, these stories are at times sad but also heartening. We’ve received a lot of positive comments from shop visitors and those who have viewed the videos online.

Why has the campaign chosen to come to AidEx?

AidEx is the flagship event for the humanitarian and development sector. It brings together thought leaders and experts from various sectors and countries. Setting up the Incredible Ordinary pop-up shop at AidEx gives us the opportunity to talk to people from different backgrounds and show them the amazing work WFP and the EU are doing to give back a sense of normalcy to refugees living in Turkey.

What benefit do you think the campaign will have at AidEx?

We hope that practitioners from around Europe and the world will see how innovative cash assistance, can transform the lives of some of the world’s most vulnerable people. The ESSN puts refugees at the centre of its assistance programme – giving them the ability to decide for themselves how best to take care of their families. It is thanks to European solidarity that nearly 1.4 million refugees in Turkey have a sense of normalcy once again. As the number of conflicts and crises continue to increase around the world, it is exactly this solidarity that must also continue. We hope everyone who visits The Incredible Ordinary shop at AidEx will walk away with a better understanding of the refugee crisis and be more aware of ways that we can support displaced and vulnerable people.

To experience WFP’s pop-up shop and learn more about WFP’s the Incredible Ordinary Campaign, head to AidEx in Brussels on 14 and 15 November 2018, register for free here.