Zaatari refugee camp, home to more than 81,000 Syrian refugees, has become the largest refugee camp in the Middle East since its establishment in 2012. Located in Jordan, the camp has developed its own economy, recreational facilities and education system, a testament to the resilience of the refugees living there.
Zaatari has 30,000 shelters and administration buildings, three hospitals, three schools, and around 3,000 shops in a market dubbed the ‘Champs Elysees’, where food, household goods, and clothes are for sale. In 2016, 1001 Media and Living on One released Salaam Neighbor, a movie attempting to capture the intricacies of this complex system within the camp.
Salaam Neighbor, directed by Chris Temple and Zach Ingrasci, involves the two men living in Zaatari for a month, immersing themselves in the lives of the refugees. The film depicts the struggles of families to establish some semblance of normalcy in an unfamiliar, makeshift environment. It is clear that despite the turbulence of their situation, the refugees value education and have made its development a priority.
In a camp where approximately 55 percent of inhabitants are under 18, the schools within Zaatari refugee camp are hardly sufficent to ensure access for all children living there, even with assistance from Jordan. However, NGOs and volunteers have come up with creative measures to work around this inadequacy. Informal education sessions are being provided by aid organizations like Save the Children, and other activities like music and taekwondo. Moreover, U.N. Women is offering its ‘Women and Girls Oasis Centre’ sessions on gender-based violence and gender equality, as well as vocational training.
Jordanian schools, too, are doing their share in enabling access to education for Syrian children. Jordan’s Education Ministry is going above and beyond for this cause: schools are hiring new teachers, allowing free public school enrollment for Syrian children, and funding second shifts at nearly 100 primary schools to create more classroom spaces. In the fall of 2016, the ministry aims to create 50,000 new spaces in public schools for Syrian children, and to reach 25,000 out-of-school children with accredited “catch-up classes”.
While these are all encouraging measures, one of the biggest problems faced by educators in and around the camp is that many children are simply too traumatized to return to school. Salam Neighbor depicts the particularly poignant story of 10-year-old Raouf and his struggle to return to formal education, after his last school building in Syria was bombed. Experiences like this require that in addition to simply providing resources for education, volunteers in camps need to understand the unique circumstances of refugees, particularly children, and recognize that a major barrier to learning might be traumatic experiences.
The only way that such a precise level of training can be provided to volunteers and educators in Zaatari refugee camp is through substantial donations. Filmmakers Temple and Ingrasci have partnered with Global Citizen, Chime for Change and Salma Hayek to advocate for more funding for refugee education.
– Mallika Khanna