No child should be part of war. Ever. But they are, in fact, in many places in the world. There is no excuse for us, living far away, not to see this or try to support them. Children are children and deserve both a place to call home as well as a place to play and develop. This is what War Child in Jordan deeply taught me.
Being a parent is not easy, no matter where you are. You always want the best for your daughter or son. But the reality is this: six years into the crisis, most Syrian refugees in Jordan are engaged in a bitter struggle against poverty—93% of those living outside of camps (and most actually do live outside camps) are below the poverty line.
According to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), Jordan hosts the second largest number of refugees relative to the size of its population—89 refugees for every 1,000 inhabitants. Of those registered in UNHCR camps, 78% are women and children and 100,000 children under five have grown up knowing nothing but shelter from war. Most children and parents interviewed by War Child reported some kind of psychological distress. Both parents and children suffer.
“Life stopped being normal in Syria those days,” said Farid, a Syrian father of four. “The bombings came more and more frequently, we moved from one place to another but there came a time when we had to flee the country, our home that we love. Jordan helped us so much. When we came to the borders, soldiers welcomed us with sandwiches. In the Za’atari refugee camp we finally felt safe. Even as refugees, we feel like we are at home here.”
What he emphasised during our meeting in his shelter, was the fact that the family did not want to split up. “Being together as a family, with our beloved Grandma, and all our sons, is the most important thing. It gives us a feeling of relief that we do not have to worry about somebody being somewhere else,” he added.
Both Farid and his wife attend sessions on Positive Parenting at the War Child centre in the camp and confirm it has a great value for both of them. Here they can talk in separate female and male groups about their everyday problems—how to cope with fatigue, avoid violence, and solve practical problems and inter-personal conflicts.
Positive parenting is also popular in the Amman War Child centres, like community-based organisation Sanabal al-Kheir, where both Syrian and Jordanian parents attend the same classes, always on Thursdays. “Today’s session was about combating stress in everyday life. We learned how to breathe in difficult situations, we discover counting backwords helps a lot,” said some active mums, who learned about such meetings from their children in kindergarten. They love talking about cooking too and, after eating “Mansaf”, a Jordanian national dish of lamb and rice, it’s not surprising!
Teenage boys need to be active in life. They know it is expected from them. If (when) they have a family, they will have responsibilities to support the family financially. In this local culture, that is the huge burden always put on men.
The 10-year-olds help their fathers with trade, drive wagons with donkeys, or pick up bread rations for family in the morning. Photography and filming lessons at the War Child centres help them express issues that concern them, in their local community environment. This is crucial, for their dignity and personal development. I see this as important social education for the future.
For me, I observe my daughter constantly. She is a volcano of energy, wants to be everywhere, talk to everyone and try everything. She, as all children in the world, has the right to develop and the right to play. Meeting with the families and facilitators at the War Child centres in Jordan, we heard a lot about the special focus given to empowering children and young girls and boys. These groups that are most vulnerable.
In the beginning, Yara (12), from Za’atari camp, did not want to take part in the sessions at the centre. Being shy seems to be typical for her age. Nowadays, after some months, she asks for more. She really found herself in photography, filming and crocheting. “She even played in a theatre once. I never saw her so active before, on the stage,” her mother said proudly. Theatre gave her the power to act and live life.
Theatre is also a means to activate and support the older kids. We were invited for see a captivating performance by some teenage girls at the War Child-supported community-based organisation in the city of Zarqa. They really surprised me, I have never watched such a great performance on education, girls’ rights and early marriage before. The facilitators explained to us that many girls feel pressure to help their family and, at the same time, observe older sisters getting married. But they now wish for more time for their personal development before making such important decisions.
Visiting a refugee family at their home in the same city of Zarqa, we met Hamid and his wonderful family. He kept talking about his oldest daughter who, at 16, was aiming to become a cardiologist in the future. She is one of his five children and “maybe not the last one,” he says. “Syrians are good people. In general, we love peace and freedom and with the children you know. They are all gifts and make us so happy.” We were discussing history, favourite movies and actors when suddenly his daughter came in the room and smiled: “Yes, I am really, really smart.” This father’s love was so significant to me.
The human technical details are these: Za’atari refugee camp does not accept any new inhabitants. It is full to capacity. But Azraq camp still does and waits for newcomers. If you are born in these refugee camps, you get registered and able to receive all possible help, but will remain stateless until the situation in your home country resolves. When will that be? This is out of your control…and the future becomes a complete unknown.
But this is what statistics say: 80 children in Za’atari camp and 25 children Azraq camp are born weekly. They are the future generation and War Child—as well as many other organisations—helps them to not get completely lost.