Sahar box
01. Challenge

Dignity in displacement: how might we support displaced individuals to find hope, dignity and safety to rebuild their lives? 

For the RSA Student Design Awards brief, my classmates and I decided to make an accessible therapy box for Syrian refugee children.

02. Team

03. Discover / Brainstorming

Using crazy 8s, we individually came up with ideas and put them in a priority matrix.

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Some promising ideas include: pop-up privacy pod, food carts using tokens as currency, and uber for refugees. With many promising solutions, my team was in an impasse. 

We decided to pitch our ideas and vote for the one that has both high impact and feasibility, and my pitch got the highest votes:

Advocating for mental health

Turkey is currently hosting the largest refugee population in the world, with the majority of those refugees being from their neighbouring country Syria. 

  • 50-90% of Syrian refugee children have PTSD
  • Less than 20% of Syrian refugee children in need of mental health care receive it

Many parents, being refugees themselves, don't have the energy or resources to guide their children. Many children grew up with trauma that will affect their entire lives.

An accessible therapy toy would provide children with a needed outlet to address their emotions and strengthen communication with their family members. 

04. Insights 

My team and I conducted research to see if there is a need in the market.

How trauma affects one's brain

Through academic research in Psychology, we found that traumatic memories stay "stuck" in the lower regions of the brain which control basic bodily functions. This leads to limited access to the narrative part of the brain (the frontal lobe), which makes it harder for Mohammed to be able to communicate how they are feeling. This is especially difficult for children because their brains are still developing. 

The Child Mind Institute listed 4 tips to help children with trauma:

  1. Spend time talking with their children.
  2. Answer questions briefly but honestly
  3. Draw out children who do not talk. E.g. open a discussion by sharing your own feelings
  4. Keep children busy

At this stage, we know we're going in the right direction – children in refugee camps will benefit greatly from therapy – but we still need to answer questions like the logistics of providing therapy in that environment. 

We created a persona – Mohammed – to better emphasize with who we're designing for.

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05. Ideation

Due to the restrictions of living in refugee camps, we decided to use play therapy to help guide children's grief and promote conversations between guardians and children. 

Play therapy

Therapists use play therapy to help children express what is troubling them when they do not have the verbal language to express their thoughts and feelings (Gil, 1991). In-play therapy, toys are like the child's words and play is the child's language (Landreth, 2002). 

Card board box

Naturally, we need toys for toy therapy. But physical posessions in refugee camps are volatile. We thought about making toys using plastic, wood, or paper, but eventually decided on the most basic material that Mohammed may have access to – card board boxes. They come with supply shipments and has several benefits like: cheap to make, easy to access, environmental-friendly.  

User journey

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At this stage, we didn't know what activities to put in the box. Should we incorporate play therapy and a manual for parents or teachers? Or should we focus on customization and make the children feel like they own something unique? We just jot down what we considered to be helpful and fun.  

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Researching folklore

To understand what activities mattere the most, we researched Syrian fairy tales and decided to inporporate the story of "The Lion, the Man, and the Glue Pot". A common technique in play therapy is toy play, so we made some cardboard characters. Rachel proposed that we make masks to let children role play the story out. 

We conducted usability testing with professors, psychology graduates, and children. 

We tested out many of our ideas, and from the feedback, we decided to focus on toy-based playing to give the users more freedom and control.

Since the box is for kids, we tested out the easiest way for them to interact with the box, like having them rip out the characters instead of cutting, having simple instructions with visual cues and fun images to keep them interested.

Some feedback include:

  • Focus on toy-based play (instead of roleplay and toy play in one box) and give users control
  • Have physical, customizable objects
  • Make pieces easy to remove from packaging
  • Keep the box simple, accessible and interesting for all ages
06. Deliverables

We finalized the design, translated it to Arabic, and printed it onto a card board box.

The activities are focused on helping the children deal with their trauma by using play therapy. These activities will focus on topics such as understanding why they had to leave their homes, death of loved ones, and understanding their emotions.

final iteration


The box is like a mini theatre you can flip on its side to play with. 


1. Instruction panel
The instructions are short with icons so it’s easy to understand.

2. Cut or rip the characters out and decorate them and the background scene however you want. 

3. Read the story with pictures like a story book. During the story, you can play with the characters and act the story out by yourself or with other kids and there are also blank spaces for you to fill the emotions you think the characters feel.

4. Use the fun questions to start a conversation about the main meaning of the story and understand your emotions and past experiences. There is also quick customizable section for you to make the box more personal and fun to have.

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07. Lessons learned

Looking back, I think therapy box is a good direction, but we have no real insight into our users, including what types of stories and toys they like, or do they rather browse the phone, etc. We also had no insight into whether parents have time to supervise and intend to invest "therapy" or play time with their children. These uncertainties undermine the validity of our solution.