Last Tuesday I went, for the second time, to Za’atari refugee camp, to one of Save the Children’s kindergartens. It was a bitterly cold day so I was very pleased to see that many of the children were wearing the warm winter boots that TOMS, the American shoe charity, had given them.
Mohamad and I were there to meet three American graduates, Zach, Chris and Sean, who have registered with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and are living in Za’atari as refugees for a month. I asked them why they had chosen to do this. “In the United States, there are so many misconceptions about Syria and what’s happening there,” Zach told me. “We wanted to be able to tell human stories and show the incredible resilience of the people we are meeting here.”
Seeing what children here do with their days
I kept plying them with questions but they were at least as interested in us and the work Save the Children is doing. We took them to visit one of our youth multi-activity centres (we run two: one for boys and one for girls). One of the centre’s two main buildings is a gym which was full of young men and boys working out; the other is a classroom. Outside, there’s a football pitch and other games areas.
In a camp where there is little to do it’s so important to have an outlet to keep healthy and busy. “We now go to bed early because we have something to look forward to the next day,” said 16-year-old Yazan* with a smile. “I used to go to sleep at 2am but now by 9pm I am already in bed because I have a long day of activities ahead of me.” The fundraiser in me instantly thought about asking the many gyms in Amman for any pro bono equipment they could donate.
A teacher’s story
The centre also offers children English and French lessons, gardening, photography and life skills such as soap- and textile-making. Children in Za’atari only receive half a day’s schooling – girls in the morning, boys in the afternoon. It was both uplifting and heartbreaking to speak with the teacher, Ahmad*. “I graduated from my law degree and I was working as a trainee in Syria,” he said. “I came to this camp over 18 months ago and my daughter was born here – she is now five months old”. We joked about how his baby daughter keeps him and his wife awake at night but then his smile faded. “My brother is still in Syria and we haven’t spoken to him for over a year,” he said soberly. “I have no idea what has happened to him.”
Zach asked him why he had chosen to become a teacher. “I wanted to share my education with others rather than keep it to myself,” he replied. “I’m happy to be able to give back to the children living in this camp.”
*Name changed to protect identity