World Refugee Day from inside Zaatari Refugee Camp

Wednesday 27 June 2018

  After assembling their pizzas, a group of students help each other carry the tray of food to the ovens at the Little Hands Early Learning Centre in Zaatari Refugee Camp, June 20. Photo by Anton L. Delgado.

How Syrians are reflecting on their sixth year as refugees in Jordan

By Anton L. Delgado | June 20, 2018


ZAATARI REFUGEE CAMP, MAFRAQ - Laughter, music and delicious food are not commonly associated with World Refugee Day, celebrated globally on the 20th of June every year. But they are at Save the Children Jordan’s Early Learning Centres (ELCs) in Zaatari Camp in Mafraq, Jordan.

On the day, students at the three ELCs funded by Bulgari, enjoyed the singing, dancing, cooking and painting events their teachers had prepared for them.

These centres provide children aged three to four with a safe learning environment, which prepares them for primary education. A “Learn thru Play” approach is designed to develop the children’s cognitive, social and emotional wellbeing, literacy and numeracy skills. According to Save the Children Jordan, these ELCs annually graduate around 5,000 students.

“We wanted to do something the children wanted to do and all of them wanted to make food with their own hands,” said Aseel, the headmaster at Little Hands ELC, who helped orchestrate the day’s festivities.

Aseel, the headmaster at Little Hands Early Learning Centre leads her students in group clapping as they sing along to a song about pizza, June 20. Photo by Anton L. Delgado. 

But while the children enjoyed the day’s events, their status as refugees remains indefinite as the Syrian Crisis continues.

Jordan is hosting almost 3.5 million refugees, 15.6 percent of the world’s refugee population, according to the Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation March 2018 figures.

Hussein*, a Syrian refugee, who volunteers for Save the Children Jordan as a guard for the Little Hands ELC has been living in Zaatari Camp since 2013, and he has two children enrolled at the ELC. Hussein worries that with each passing World Refugee Day, his children will begin to believe that they will be refugees forever and that Zaatari Camp is Syria.

“The children know nothing about Syria — most of them think Syria is just outside the camp,” Hussein said. “We tell them about Syria and what it’s like, but they’ve forgotten everything. It's a dream to go back, but they don’t really know what Syria is anymore.”

As a father of six children, Hussein has tried to remind his children of their true home in Daraa, Syria and hopes the teachers at Little Hands ELC will reinforce his lessons.

Safieh, the headmaster of Rainbow ELC — which provides more than 450 Syrian children with their early childhood schooling each term — uses World Refugee Day as a tool to reinforce Hussein’s lessons, not only with his children but to all of the students at Rainbow ELC.

“We ask our teachers to use World Refugee Day to teach their students how Zaatari Camp is not their home, and how one day they will go back,” Safieh said.

                                                                                                                                                                   Students at Little Hands Early Learning Centre in Zaatari Refugee Camp sing along to teachers moments before the World Refugee Day festivities begin, June 20. Photo by Anton L. Delgado                                   

Saya*, a Syrian refugee who has taught at Rainbow ELC since 2013, enjoys the opportunity World Refugee Day presents. On the day, she prioritizes telling her students stories about Syria, the borders lie less than 15 kilometers from the camp.

“World Refugee Day is really important for our students and for all of us here, because it reminds us that we will go back to our real homes,” Saya said. “Even though it was taken away from us, we need the day to remind our students that we will get it back.”

This year, on World Refugee Day, Saya read a poem to her students titled "Who am I?" that she had written herself about her own experience as a refugee.

Who am I?

I am a refugee on the road,

Who lost her friends and all her hopes,

I lost all of these in my burned homeland,

I’m the one who left,

But did not know where to go,

I left there,

My ambitions that were painted in Syria,

My ambitions were so big,

But now I sleep on the ground,

With my hand as my pillow,

And my struggle as my blanket,

And my dreams are telling me of my future,

That our struggle won’t be for too much longer,

I will stay strong,

Trying to keep my Syrian identity,

Because there will be a beautiful sunrise soon,

That takes away all the dark and all the dark that my country is facing,

And I will scream and call in my voice,

I am coming home,

I am coming home.

But not all refugee children are provided with the same educational opportunity as the students in Saya’s class.

According to a recent Save the Children report, “Time to Act”, there are over 700,000 out-of-school refugee children around the world. To enroll all of the children out of school into an educational program, $3.2 billion is needed. 3.5 times more than that amount was spent on this year’s World Cup in Russia.

Save the Children strives to protect children from such experiences but worries that despite the daily $2 cost of sending a refugee child to school, according to the Time to Act report the organization may not be able to keep up with the growing needs of the Syrian people.

                                                                                                                                                                                       A volunteer teacher helps put sauce on two student's pizza as they bedeck their food with green peppers, cheese, tomatoes and sausages, June 20. Photo by Anton L. Delgado

Teachers like Saya are hopeful each passing World Refugee Day, will bring more children into school and all Syrian refugees closer to home.

“One day I hope there will be no refugees and no need for World Refugee Day,” Saya said. “I want the concept to be gone, I hope next year I’ll be able to celebrate no longer being a refugee.” 


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   The * indicates an alias that was used to protect the identities of the Syrian refugee