UN Agencies team up to bring voices of Syrian refugees to world leaders through Virtual Reality

Children of Syria

30 March 2015, Kuwait – The United Nations is using virtual reality (VR) to transport top decision-makers to a Syrian refugee camp at a major donor conference.  Clouds Over Sidra is a VR experience designed to take viewers to the Za’atari camp in Jordan – home to 84,000 Syrian refugees.  World leaders will follow a 12-year-old girl as she invites them into her new home, her makeshift classroom and to share a meal with her family.  The goal is to connect donors with Syrians affected by the war and inspire leaders to make bold commitments.

Following successful screenings at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Sundance Film Festival, and TEDx, Clouds Over Sidra will be shown at the Third International Humanitarian Pledging Conference for Syria in Kuwait.  By transporting viewers directly to a Syrian refugee camp, the UN hopes to add to the discourse and refocus the world’s attention to one of the world’s largest refugee crises.

“At the UN Millennium Campaign, we consistently strive to bring citizens’ perspectives into the decision making process any way possible” said Mitchell Toomey, Director of the UN Millennium Campaign. “By leveraging breakthrough technologies such as virtual reality, we can create solidarity with those who are normally excluded and overlooked, amplifying their voices and allowing them to explain their realities in their own words.”

The virtual reality film was created in collaboration between the UN Millennium Campaign, UNICEF Jordan, Samsung, Chris Milk and his production studio VRSE.works. It premiered at the United Nations Secretary-General’s MDG Advocacy Group event in Davos which called for partnerships to build resilience in vulnerable communities in the final year of the MDGs.

“I want to influence decision makers, first and foremost. I don’t think all of them truly know what [Sidra’s life] is like and, in giving them this experience, I’m hopeful they will be moved to weigh greater the consequences of their decisions,” said Gabo Arora, Senior Adviser to UN and Director of Clouds Over Sidra.

The number of countries in humanitarian crises is at an all-time high and it is estimated that the number of refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced persons exceeded the highest number since World War II, according to UNHCR. Fifty percent of these refugees are children. The latest UNICEF Education Sector analysis, carried out in partnership with the Syrian Ministry of Education, estimated that between 2.1 and 2.4 million children in Syria were out of school and/or not attending school regularly.

“The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has launched a campaign called #WhatDoesItTake to express our profound frustration watching the Syrian crisis continue year after year without a political solution,” said UN Humanitarian chief Valerie Amos. “At the same time, we express solidarity with the people who suffer: humanitarian programmes can help millions of people with life-saving and life-sustaining aid in Syria and the region. But the crisis is outpacing the resources available for the response – the funding gap is growing.  As we encourage donors to continue to give generously to Syria, innovative projects like this can bring new perspectives and a deeper understanding of what people are going through,” she added.

“Immersing oneself in the virtual world is massively different than passively watching it on a screen. Our goal was to create a powerful tool that will change the landscape for those working in peacekeeping, emergency response and development. It is our hope that this series will also be able to change the outcome for many people in vulnerable situations,” added Gabo Arora, Senior Adviser to UN and Director, Producer and Writer of Clouds Over Sidra.

To watch Clouds Over Sidra, download the VRSE app (http://vrse.com/) and watch either with google cardboard (https://www.google.com/get/cardboard/) on any smartphone, or with the new Samsung Gear VR (http://www.samsung.com/global/microsite/gearvr/).

For more information please visit:  http://blog.myworld2015.org/virtualreality/

Media Contacts:

Kristin Gutekunst - UN Millennium Campaign – kristin.gutekunst@undp
Charlotte Cans – UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) – Cans@un.org