Water for Food

Jordan’s Za’atari camp reveals the power of hope, resilience

April 21, 2016
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Syrians walk and ride their bikes down the Champs-Elysées market street in the Za'atari refugee camp. Photo by Molly Nance.

By Madison Thorn, Water for Food Institute student intern and global studies major at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln

A team of Water for Food Institute staff and four student interns traveled to Amman, Jordan March 18-26 to learn first-hand about the impacts of the Syrian crisis on neighboring countries and the difficulties local governments face in providing water and food to thousands of refugees. The students also explored Jordanian culture and history, including visits to world-famous archeological sites. The team showcased what they learned during the conference, “Water Scarcity, Human Security and Democratization: Aspects and Impacts of the Syrian Crisis,” April 19 at Nebraska Innovation Campus. WFI intern Madison Thorn shares her experience.

Over the last four months, I have been doing intensive research on the Syrian Crisis. Before my trip to Jordan last month, I could have told you that there are 4,837,208 million registered refugees and 638,633 thousand living in Jordan. However, knowledge and experience are two different things.

All the research in the world could not have prepared me for the experience of seeing the Za’atari refugee camp with my own eyes. When I entered camp, I stepped into the lives of the refugees. Za’atari is the Middle East’s largest camp for civil war refugees with a population of nearly 80,000 people. It is a place where one would expect to find so much darkness, yet the Syrians are illuminated by hope and continue to strive for a better life. The circumstances are not ideal in the camp. The houses are small, but the system is strong. UNICEF and other organizations keep the camp sanitized and the water supply constant.

I expected to see tent after tent but found that there were rectangular unit homes painted with various colored murals. The murals represented important valued aspects for a healthy life, such as water, hygiene, education, etc. The Syrian people are strong willed and hard working. Those living in Za’atari built a city from the dirt and rocks, an unthinkable place. The main and busiest street in the camp is the market street, otherwise known as the Champs-Élysées. Syrians are clever too. In Jordan, work by refugees is not permitted by the government and is hard to find. Instead of finding work outside the camp, they make work for themselves. The Syrians took this camp full of tents and units and made it a place where they can profit; a place with an economy where they have something to do each day while they wait for the fighting to stop and they can return home.

During our visit in Za’atari, I had a conversation with Aiya, a UNICEF volunteer. I was specifically touched by her words and description of the camp. In her time working there, she has found the spirit of the place irresistible, making her always want more and always want to return. She wanted to buy a tent to live in the camp to be closer to the people instead of making the two-hour drive day in and day out from Amman. She is extremely dedicated and committed to the work she does and compels others, like myself, to do the same.

Another experience in Za’atari was with Omar Abdul, a Syrian man who has been living in the camp for two years with his family. He told us the conditions were good, and that he and his family drink the water available and that it is safe. He was a kind man in high spirits. Omar kept inviting us for tea and coffee, insisting we go and share more time with him. A man with so little, who has suffered through many hardships, still finds a place in his heart for generosity and benevolence.

Did you know that only 20 percent of the refugees in Jordan live in designated refugee camps and are being supported by groups like UNICEF and other NGOs? Most of the refugees, more than half a million, find their homes outside the camps in communities. This has a large impact on the Jordanian infrastructure and water resources. Jordan, the third most water-poor country in the world, already deals with a high level of stress on its resources. Yet its people continue to be generous and open their boarders for Syrians to find a safe home away from violence.

6,566 miles away from home, I found myself learning more than I could have from hours spent behind the screen of my computer. There is so much to learn through cross-cultural interactions. I learned so much from both the Jordanian and Syrian people. Jordanians continue to let refugees in, hosting more than 3 million refugees from all over the region, even when times are tough. The Syrian people continue to act compassionately and show kindness to others even in the most difficult of times. They open their hearts to others and show resilience against the war back at home, not letting it destroy who they are. They are strong and courageous to leave their lives behind and enter a city, town, community, or camp that is foreign to them. There is so much to learn from Syrians; I hope the world can learn from their hospitable ways and show them the same level of respect. They haven’t lost hope – and we shouldn’t either.


Madison Thorn is an undergraduate student pursuing a global studies major and communication studies and Spanish minors at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. She is originally from Phoenix, Arizona and has a passion for cultural immersion. She has spent time studying abroad in both Ecuador and Spain. This spring she has been researching the Syrian refugee crisis, specifically in regard to water scarcity and its humanitarian implications. Thorn will graduate in May 2016 and hopes to continue her thirst for cultural immersion by teaching English on a Fulbright Scholarship in Mexico.

Two Syrian girls pose for the camera in the Za'atari refugee camp. Photo by Molly Nance.

Two Syrian girls pose for the camera in the Za’atari refugee camp. Photo by Molly Nance.

One of the many mural painted houses in the Za'atari refugee camp. The houses in this sector were painted turquoise and promoted water. Photo by Morgan Spiehs.

One of the many mural painted houses in the Za’atari refugee camp. The houses in this sector were painted turquoise and promoted water. Photo by Morgan Spiehs.

The water truck station where workers check and fill the water trucks that are sent into the camp to fill personal and public water tanks. Photo by Morgan Spiehs.

The water truck station where workers check and fill the water trucks that are sent into the camp to fill personal and public water tanks. Photo by Morgan Spiehs.

Omar Abdul smiles with his daughter. They are from Damascus and have lived in Za'atari for two years. Photo by Morgan Spiehs.

Omar Abdul smiles with his daughter. They are from Damascus and have lived in Za’atari for two years. Photo by Morgan Spiehs.

Madison Thorn, Water for Food Institute student intern and global studies major at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln

Madison Thorn, Water for Food Institute student intern and global studies major at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln


 
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