Design light-up toys for refugee children

Alumnus Suzanne Ros’s story 

Suzanne so can you image

There are currently 17 million people in the world living as refugees and half of them are children. Many of the children don’t have artificial lights. This means that once the sun sets, they can’t read or play and they go to sleep in darkness every evening. While kerosene lamps provide light and warmth, sitting near one for a few hours could be as bad for their health as smoking two packets of cigarettes. Alumnus Suzanne Ros envisioned and designed a way to bring light to this darkness while she was still a student. With great success.

There’s something on the table here. What are we looking at?

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“This is the Noomi [pronounced ‘new-mee’]. It’s a rounded object with a rubber exterior, which looks a bit like a dinosaur egg, for children to play with. It has light diodes inside along with a dynamo that generates energy when you move the toy. Half an hour of playing catch or another game creates enough energy for three hours of light. In the evenings, children can use the Noomi as a reading lamp or a night light to fall asleep with.”

How did you come up with this idea?

“While I was on the English-taught Industrial Design Engineering programme at THUAS, I started looking into refugee camps with three other international students. We wanted to develop a creative idea that would help people, in this case, children. This concept is called ‘social engineering’. We also decided we wanted to incorporate sustainable energy in some way. There are already existing solutions for the problem of light deficiency in refugee camps, such as lamps that are powered by solar or wind energy. We didn’t want to be dependent on the sun or wind, so we came up with a toy that lights up. This was also because, on many occasions, the children in camps didn’t have anything to play with.”

In the evenings, children can use the Noomi as a lamp

Did you know right away that the idea would be a success?

“Not really, no. We were enthusiastic, of course, but we didn’t know that others were equally excited until our project collected more donations on the funding platform Kickstarter than we had expected. Suddenly we were taking part in competitions and events, winning awards, being invited to attend workshops and getting a lot of press. We participated in the THUAS Hybrid Student Entrepreneur Competition and were up for the Philips Innovation Award.”

What was it like to be in the spotlight because of a product you designed yourself?

“Absolutely amazing. It has been the single biggest event in my life so far. Entrepreneurship teaches you so many things. And I think it’s pretty cool that, with my international roots, I was able to come up with a concept that can be put to use anywhere in the world. I delivered my pitch, sought help from professionals and gained knowledge in so many aspects. Seriously, everyone should do it. If you have an idea, don’t let anything stop you. Go for it!”

Entrepreneurship teaches you so many things

Would you have said this was possible when you first enrolled in your programme?

“When I moved to the Netherlands from Asia five years ago, I had no idea where to start. But the Dutch attitude is fantastic, so I found my footing quickly enough and chose an international study programme that felt right for me. I’ve always loved doing arts and crafts and exploring creative solutions, but I never could have guessed I’d design such a great, socially-conscious product. I had help from THUAS lecturer Shahab Zehtabtchi, the Venture Academy and from businesses that gave us the opportunity to pitch our idea.”

What’s next?

“I’ve just graduated (with a nine!). Now I’m moving on to a master’s programme at Delft University of Technology to learn even more! In the meantime, I’ll keep working on Noomi. Once I’ve earned my master’s, I hope to spark many more ideas in the future.”

The name ‘Noomi’

Our starting point was the word ‘moon’ - it’s familiar all over the world and is the same wherever you go. Refugees find themselves in a new and alien world. Their lives have been turned upside down, which is why we turned the word ‘moon’ around to make ‘noom’. The ‘i’ at the end stands for ‘I’ and ‘individual’. Your own personal lamp in the darkness. In Arabic, the word ‘noomi’ means ‘my sleep’.”