A Camp Through the Eyes of Its Youth

The Zaatari Refugee Camp near Mafraq in northern Jordan is home to a majority women and children. As the youngest of displaced Syrians increase in number and grow up as refugees, the question of education and the larger one of quality of youthful life are at the forefront of many logistical and development questions within a camp’s facilitators.

Children can be found around every corner, tent and caravan in Zaatari. International and nongovernmental organizations have worked to build playgrounds for the children and a gym for older youth. Many can be found playing there, and just as many others can be found making toys of wheelbarrows, taking care of siblings while parents work during the day, and working on small jobs themselves to bring in money for their families. With a food voucher program providing families roughly 20 JD–less than $30–per mouth, per month for food (aside from bread and water provided as a base), additional funds are necessary for most.

School enrollment is now at more than 15,000, of the 19,000 registered youth in the camp, according to UNHCR field office estimations. Having increased significantly since the opening of the camp–when enrollment was at less than 23 percent of registered school-age youth–the education campaigning by organizations working in the camp has begun paying off. Yet, the motivation of school–especially when many doubt their degrees will carry validity outside the camp–being worth the time of young refugees still lacks universal appeal. According to one refugee, the schools have had to stop having mid-morning breaks, as young students would sometimes take these breaks as an opportunity to leave campus and not return for the day. 

Adding to the youth populations are the new children born to families, with the most recent UNHCR estimation at an average of 11 babies daily in Zaatari alone. Growing up in a state of displacement and uncertainty takes its tolls mentally, weighing especially heavily on those missing large parts of experiences normally afforded in childhood.

It is clear even with the youngest generations of Syrians here that the pull between safety in Zaatari and their homes being in Syria is a constant struggle to grapple with.

As one young 13-year-old girl explained, living in the camp is difficult because her “heart is in Syria.” The light that sparked in her eyes when she began talking about all she left behind showed a passion, sadness and resilient joy that echoed throughout the youth, as each stole moments to talk about their homeland.

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