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Syrian lives

An inventive Syrian refugee devises a new way to get around

Yousef Al-Masri turns heads every day as he commutes to his volunteer job at a health clinic in Zaatari refugee camp in northern Jordan.

A long walk to work prompted the 50-year-old anesthesiologist from Syria to devise a better way to get around the sprawling camp. Because bicycles were expensive, Yousef started welding old bike parts and scrap metal together to build new bikes — as well as four-wheeled, pedal-powered "cars" like the one he rides to work. 

"Necessity is the mother of invention," he says. 

Yousef's two teenage sons ride the two-wheeled bikes he built for them to school, which shortens their trip from a chilly 30 minutes each way in winter to just 10. 

Before the war in Syria forced the family to flee to Jordan in 2013, Yousef worked in a hospital in Dara'a and enjoyed welding as a hobby. Today he volunteers with the International Rescue Committee as a medical receptionist, spending evenings and weekends building the bikes that have become his passion.   

"Sometimes I wish nighttime didn’t exist, just so I can keep working," he says.

Yousef, who owned a car in Syria and admires vintage automobiles of the 1970s and 80s, says he relies on memory to design his unique vehicles. "I like to mix the old with the new."

I like to mix the old with the new.

Impressed with Yousef’s ingenuity and his drive to innovate, IRC health clinic supervisor Khalil Abu Laimoon bought one of his four-wheelers. The sale enabled Yousef to purchase more materials and continue to refine his designs.

Parked proudly outside Khalil’s home, the bike draws many curious admirers. Khalil says, "I tell them the story of the Syrian refugee who came to the camp with a big mind, limited within the boundaries of the fence, and has to have his way opened in order for him to create greater things."

For Yousef’s part, he says he would like to continue making bicycles, even if one day he has a chance to return to Syria and his old life.

"When I find something I like, I don’t leave it."