Letters to the World: Syrian Children at the Zaatari Refugee Camp Share their Wishes

June 19, 2014

World Refugee Day is a time to recognize the resilience and strength of refugees or those who have been forcibly displaced from their homes.

Syria’s civil war has created one of the largest refugee crises of our time. More than 2.8 million, over half of whom are children, have fled Syria as refugees, many to Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq. 

As part of RI’s activities commemorating World Refugee Day on June 20, Syrian children part of RI’s education program at the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan shared their hopes, dreams, and struggles with us. They wrote letters, sharing their feelings and expressing their thoughts on life in a camp far from home.

We received many beautiful and emotional letters. Here are a few of them:

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“Many warm greetings from a child brimming with hope, to those who may read my letter, I say to you that we will rebuild Syria and host you on its grounds and return the favors that you were kind enough to grant us, for which we are thankful. We will welcome you and say “Ahlan wa Sahlan” (“Welcome” in Arabic) in loving Syria, your second home.”(below)

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“In the name of God the Merciful. I want to send this letter to the world, for that, help us. I want to go home because I currently live in a tent which is unsafe, I want my right as a young girl to conquer the world. It is my right to put my clothes in a closet instead of a placing them in wooden boxes. I want to put my plate of food in a refrigerator instead of leaving it out for the flies and insects. I want, and I want a lot. My home, Syria, gives me all of this. I want to return to you, Syria.”—Rama (below)

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“I miss my home and my fence, my trees and their fruits, my room, my toys.”-Raghab

“It is my right to live in peace.”(below)

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“It is my right to eat healthy foods.”(below)

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“It is my right to see a bird in the camp.”(below)

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“It is my right to breathe clean air.”(below)

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RI, with support from UNICEF, has been providing educational assistance to more than 6,500 children in both the Zaatari camp, Azraq camp, and host communities in Jordan. Through RI’s program, children attend math, science, and language classes to catch up and continue their education. They also receive psychosocial services to recover from their traumatic experiences in a safe environment, attending organized recreational activities such as sports, arts, drama, and chess. Most importantly, these activities promote a sense of normalcy by giving them the space and time to play as children.

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Above: Syrian children in class at RI’s remedial education center at the Zaatari refugee camp, Jordan. 

More information on RI’s work with Syrian refugees here.

Update from the Relief International Team in the Zaatari Refugee Camp, Jordan

May 19, 2014

In the Zaatari refugee camp, RI’s educational program is helping more than 6,500 Syrian children catch-up in their studies and heal from trauma. Syrian parents share how RI’s educational center gives their children a sense of stability amidst a crisis.

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Above: Recreational activities at RI’s education center in the Zaatari refugee camp.

Along with their five young daughters and son, Jassem and Ibtisam arrived in the Zaatari refugee camp in North Jordan one year ago after fleeing their home in Daraa, Syria.

Jassem and Ibtisam registered their two daughters, Ala’ and Jinan, in the RI’s educational program inside the camp and day by day they noticed the impact the program had on their children.

“Both of my daughters return to the tent happy and cheerful because they enjoy the recreational activities that the Relief International center offers and which is not offered enough in the formal schools,” Ibtisam explains.

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Above: Recreational activities at RI’s education center in the Zaatari refugee camp.

“The existence of RI center in the camp is very important for children like my daughter, Jinan, because she is so active and needs a safe place to play and let go of her energy… and she does that in the center,” says Jassem. “We noticed that Ala’s English language skills have improved after joining this program. She used to face difficulties in the formal schools especially because of the high number of students which might reach 100 students in each classroom, and additionally, teachers in the RI center use effective ways of teaching.”

A RI employee asked Ibtisam if she recommends that other parents enroll their children in the program. “Of course, I do advise my neighbors and acquaintances in the camp to register their children in the RI program so they can benefit as much as my dear daughters did,” says Ibtisam.

RI’s team works in close partnership with parents. All teachers, case managers, and community mobilizers in the educational program are Syrians from the camp. Other staff are from the local Jordanian town. This has created understanding and trust between the staff and children as they are familiar and have been through similar experiences, whilst also providing employment to those living in the camp.

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Above: Boys in class at RI’s education center in the Zaatari refugee camp.

Sixteen-year-old Nada arrived in Zaatari three months ago. She immediately registered in the educational program offered by Relief International inside the camp.

One of our staff met her during recent recreational activities held celebrating the program’s one year anniversary.

“I enjoy coming to the RI center. Here I spend fruitful and joyful time in a nice and secured place. That is much better than spending my time around the camp and doing nothing,” says Nada.

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Above: Boys attending a martial arts class at RI’s education center in the Zaatari refugee camp.

Even as they escape the immediate danger of the conflict back home, Syrian children struggle to regain their place in school due to displacement. Educational programs like RI’s give these students an opportunity to heal from trauma, catch-up in their studies, and look to a brighter and better future.

RI, in partnership with UNICEF, has been providing educational assistance since March 2013 to more than 6,500 children in both the Zaatari camp and urban settings who have missed up to two years of school. Learn more here.

Relief International Emergency Program Development Adviser, Alex Binns, Reports from the Field in South Sudan (Part2)

May 7, 2014

Relief International Emergency Program Development Adviser, Alex Binns, gives us a close look at RI’s work in Maban County, South Sudan, where our team is helping meet urgent health needs through rural primary health clinics established in isolated communities and settlements for the displaced.

During my recent visit to RI’s field office in Maban County (located in Upper Nile State), as Emergency Development Advisor, I accompanied Mr. Alemayehu Tamene, the RI Nutrition and Health Technical Coordinator, to a number of locations in Upper Nile State where RI is providing emergency health services.

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The indigenous host community in Upper Nile State is currently hosting displaced families in Abetytati and Banashowa, a remote location about 70km from Bunj town (the capital of Maban County).  With the rainy season’s arrival imminent, the outlook for this displaced community is dire. There are currently no nutrition, water, sanitation, or health services available, apart from a small, nearly defunct water pump. It was not evident whether the host community had planted crops, but food supplies were dwindling fast.  With the onset of recent violence, a critical planting season was disrupted and trade routes and food markets across the country were left in disorder.

The displaced, mostly women and young children, were temporarily settled on a low floodplain, in small three-walled (no ceiling) shacks made of reeds gathered from the surrounding areas. Most women and children were roaming the area, the former gathering firewood and shelter materials, and at great risk. Women are primarily responsible for gathering firewood, materials for dwellings (they also construct them) and water for domestic use. Often these resources are scarce and located at a distance from scattered settlements. During their daily journeys, women are vulnerable to gender-based violence, attack and abduction. 

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RI primary health clinic in Dangaji.

With the incoming rainy season, local RI staff are working with the community to construct a temporary health clinic on a hill to serve the community during the rains. To complete the health clinic as soon as possible, RI staff met with the high chief of the host community to discuss the necessity for storing the basic drugs for common diseases, anti-malaria tablets, painkillers and antibiotics that RI was delivering as part of an emergency response.

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An RI doctor at Gasmalla checking on patients.

We also visited a number of primary health care clinics in a number of rural locations to check the registers and analyze the needs of the respective communities. RI delivered additional stocks of basic drugs to implement the capacity of the stores during the rains. I was introduced to RI local staff and a number of health personnel who were serving the community. 

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RI primary health clinic in Gasmalla (Upper Nile State).

From a personal perspective, it was moving to visualize the value of RI’s work in the field, especially as the leading provider of health services in Maban County, and to note the appreciation and positive affect that RI’s work has on marginalized communities in underserved and non-accessible areas.

Alex

Find out more about RI’s work in South Sudan here.

Relief International Emergency Program Development Adviser, Alex Binns, Reports from the Field in South Sudan (Part1)

May 6, 2014

As peace talks resume in South Sudan, millions of people who have fled conflict remain in urgent need and face a looming hunger crisis. Continued violence and increasing displacement have contributed to a severe humanitarian emergency. As the crisis intensifies, our staff emphasize the urgent needs of families must be met before the approaching rainy season causes floods that cut off access to communities. 

South Sudan, already suffering from drought, flooding, and extreme poverty, has been further crippled by violence that erupted along ethnic lines in December 2013 and the resulting internal population displacement. An agreement to cease hostilities was signed on January 23 earlier this year, but its real impact on the humanitarian situation remains unclear. So far, nearly one million people have been internally displaced by the conflict and 293,000 have fled to neighboring countries. Hundreds of thousands have lost their livelihoods and access to basic services. As the impact of the conflict and resulting needs become more protracted, RI and other humanitarian actors continue to extend and expand their crisis response plans to meet the urgent needs of the displaced and conflict-affected populations. 

The overall effect of the crisis is the inability of South Sudanese people to meet their basic needs. Families do not have access to sufficient food, water, or health services which were already strained before the outbreak of recent violence, thereby aggravating malnutrition and health related problems.

With the onset of the rains, flooding will leave many underserved communities without basic services for at least six months, as current infrastructure restricts access. Additionally, the current political and security situation, including impediments to humanitarian workers, creates additional stress for the South Sudanese, especially the displaced persons, host communities, and refugees in Jonglei, Upper Nile and Unity States.

While these challenges, including dangerous operating conditions and constrained humanitarian access, continue to impede humanitarian agencies from reaching those in need, current humanitarian financing is not sufficient to ensure that operations are funded.

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RI staff checking medicine stock lists.

Despite these enormous challenges, RI is committed to assist all populations in need. RI is currently expanding its response to reach as many people as possible prior to the rains (specifically refugees, displaced persons and host communities in Maban County who have been indirectly affected by the crisis). In the Doro refugee camp, RI, with support from the US State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, is focusing on building sustainable services by improving water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) which will include borehole rehabilitation, construction of latrines and hafirs (water reservoirs), hygiene promotion, and waste disposal management. RI will also be improving access to healthcare by stocking medicines and renovating the Bunj clinic. 

RI’s work in Maban will focus on peace building and improving tensions over shared resources. With the outbreak of violence this past December, displaced persons from Malakal, Renk, and other areas in the Upper Nile have flooded into Maban, nearly doubling its population in a matter of weeks. Maban also hosts refugees from Sudan’s Blue Nile State. This has created tensions with host communities over a lack of already-strained resources.

RI’s goal is to reduce tension by organizing groups to cooperate through conflict resolution forums and discussions, shared natural resource management, and livelihoods programming. Our team will be working alongside communities to help them build sustainable livelihoods through agricultural support, small start-up grants, vocational and skills training, and trainings on sustainable environment management.

Alex

Find out more about RI’s work in South Sudan here.

RI Marks the One Year Anniversary of its Educational Program in the Zaatari Refugee Camp

April 17, 2014

Today, more than 600 Syrian children in the Zaatari refugee camp came together for festivities to mark the first year anniversary of Relief International’s (RI) educational program inside the camp. They were joined by RI partners, friends, and parents. It was a day for the students to experience the simple joys of being a kid.

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In partnership with UNICEF and funded by the European Union, the Government of Germany through KfW Development Bank, and the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, RI has been providing educational assistance since March 2013 to more than 6,500 children in both the camp and urban settings who have missed up to two years of school.

Even as they escape the immediate danger of the conflict back home, Syrian children struggle to regain their place in school due to displacement. Educational programs like RI’s give these students a rare opportunity to heal, catch-up, and look to a better future.

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Through RI’s program, children attend math, science, and language classes to catch up and continue their education. They also receive psychosocial services to recover from their traumatic experiences in a safe environment, attending organized recreational activities such as sports, arts, drama, and chess. Most importantly, these activities promote a sense of normalcy by giving them the space and time to play as children. 

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The day’s festivities included different interactive activities performed by the male and female students inside the RI center in Zaatari. Children enjoyed activities such as face painting, drawing, storytelling, football, and volleyball. They also performed drama sketches and folk songs, spreading joy throughout the center and making the audience cheer with enthusiasm.

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RI’s program will also expand in the future. Regional Country Director Philippe Clerc announced that RI’s remedial and informal education program will expand to include the eastern Azraq Camp this month. “In Zaatari,” he concluded, “RI hopes to register and work with an additional 4,500 students in the Remedial Program and 1,000 in the Informal Program until the end of 2014.”

RI began working in Jordan in 2004 providing emergency relief, rehabilitation, development assistance and program services to vulnerable communities in Jordan, such as Palestinian, Iraqi and Syrian refugees and host communities. Incorporating an integrated approach, RI launched different projects related to education, sanitation and health, internet learning, digital community and culture exchange, sanitation, and remedial education to Syrian refugees and host communities in Jordan.

Learn more about RI’s work here.

Update from the Relief International Team in the Philippines

April 1, 2014

In the wake of Typhoon Haiyan, RI’s Rapid Emergency Deployment (RED) Team immediately deployed to provide urgent primary medical care in the Tacloban area. Now, exciting developments are underway as the Carigara District Hospital, the hospital that RI’s RED Team helped staff, has begun operating at nearly full capacity for the first time since Haiyan. The hospital serves approximately 215,000 people in six towns. Recently, the hospital performed its first operation in the newly-restored operating room—a birth!

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Above:  Members of RI’s Rapid Emergency Deployment (RED) Team in front of the Carigara District Hospital

Success stories like this are becoming more common as the people of Philippines rebuild, but a long road of recovery remains. The widespread destruction of critical infrastructure following Haiyan resulted in millions of displaced people without access to essential services such as electricity, healthcare, sanitation facilities, and clean water. To meet these needs, RI is currently helping provide access to safe drinking water, supplying hygiene and sanitation facilities, and conducting hygiene awareness education. Haiyan had a severe effect upon agriculture, particularly for the country’s coconut production. To prevent future devastation, RI is in plans to launch projects that will work with local communities to replant coconut using an intercropping scheme to strengthen the coconut trees’ resistance to high winds.

Find out more about RI’s current work in the Philippines here. 

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Above: RI’s Rapid Emergency Deployment (RED) Team

Photo Credits: Roger Spinti

Third Anniversary of the Syria Crisis

March 17, 2014

Last week, global vigils were held across the world to mark and commemorate the third anniversary of the crisis in Syria as part of the global #WithSyria campaign. Thousands of people across the world stood together shining a light in solidarity with the people of Syria. In the Zaatari refugee camp, North Jordan, Save the Children arranged vigils attended by many including representatives from Relief International, lighting candles and flying balloons to show support to the millions of Syria children, women, and men who are struggling each day to survive the crisis.

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Photo Credit: Karl Schembri/ Save the Children 

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Photo Credit: Karl Schembri/ Save the Children 

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Photo Credit: Karl Schembri/ Save the Children 

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Photo Credit: Karl Schembri/ Save the Children 

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Photo Credit: Karl Schembri/ Save the Children 

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Photo Credit: Karl Schembri/ Save the Children 

Join us. Learn more and help support Syrian families and children here.

Update from the Relief International Team in Lebanon

March 14, 2014

In Lebanon, Relief International, with support from UNICEF, is providing access to education for thousands Syrian and Lebanese host community children. Here’s a heart-warming update from the RI team in Lebanon: 

"I know how to hold a pen and write my name," Anas, a seven-year-old Syrian boy, proudly tells RI staff. Anas attends classes as part of RI’s Accelerated Learning Program. Anas was previously out of school for two years.

"I love my school and my teachers, and I want to learn more to be able to go back and rebuild my country," he says. 

RI’s Accelerated Learning Program (ALP) operates in 24 schools and five learning centers across Beirut, Mount Lebanon, and North Lebanon (Tripoli). Our team helps out-of-school Syrian children to become enrolled in the formal education system, catch-up, and perform better. To date, RI has reached more than 7,000 children and aims to reach 30,000 by the end of 2014 as our project scales up throughout the year.

Learn more here.

Join us and help support Syrian children here.

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Above: Syrian children receiving educational assistance from RI in Lebanon.

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Above: Children attending the RI ALP program at the King Saoud School in Beirut where in thanks they created a heart and wrote “RELIEF” with the UNICEF in-kind donated school bags they received.

Bringing Smiles to Syrian Children in Zaatari

March 11, 2014

An update from the RI team in the Zaatari refugee camp, northern Jordan:

This past January, delighted peals of laughter and song rang throughout the RI education center in the Zaatari refugee camp, Jordan.  As part of RI’s remedial education project, the RI team helped organize winter recreational activities for students at the RI education center. To close the celebrations, RI held an Open House for students’ families and friends to visit the schools, see the students’ work, and learn more about how RI’s educational programming can help their children catch-up in school.

Widespread displacement has resulted in thousands of children without access to education. Disrupted curricula and exposure to trauma has left many students behind in their schoolwork and unable to make up for lost time. Since March 2013, with support from UNICEF, RI’s educational program in the Zaatari refugee camp has been providing much-needed educational opportunities to displaced Syrian children.

See some of the smiling faces:

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Learn more about RI’s remedial education program at the Zaatari camp here.

Join us and help support Syrian families and children here.

Update from the Relief International Team in Iraq

March 10, 2014

Since November 2013, RI has been carrying out activities inside the Dara Shakran Camp in Erbil to help more than 2,000 Syrian refugee families. RI’s goal is to improve health and quality of life for all within the camp, by implementing best practices for health, nutrition, water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), and education. RI is also providing water quality monitoring services to ensure that water is safe for refugees to use and drink. Read more and learn how our work has influenced the lives of refugees like Mahmoud and Kalia:

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Preventing Polio

The assistance RI provides has had a huge impact on refugees’ lives by preventing disease and improving health. One key task for RI’s team has been to ensure that all children in the camp are vaccinated against polio to prevent outbreaks of the disease, like those seen inside Syria. The war has prevented many children from receiving routine vaccinations and as a result, Syria has suffered from outbreaks of polio which have caused lifelong disability, and in some cases death. To prevent similar outbreaks in Iraq, the government launched a vaccination campaign for Syrian refugee children but after data analysis, RI found that only four children out of 1,253 children under five years of age in the Dara Shakran Camp had received the vaccination. Immediately, RI began a tent-to-tent awareness campaign to encourage parents to have their children vaccinated. The campaign was an enormous success, and nearly all children in need in the camp have been vaccinated, giving them protection from the devastating effects of polio.

The crisis in Syria, coupled with economic and geographic instability, has resulted in decreased attendance rates for many children in the region. One of RI’s most important priorities is ensuring as many children as possible attend school, and our staff work closely with parents, schools, and local authorities to enroll children in school and make sure they attend regularly.

Helping children like Mahmoud get back to school

As part of RI’s efforts to identify children unable to attend school, RI’s mobilizers met Mahmoud, a 14-year-old Syrian boy. He had dropped out of school to work to support his mother, grandmother, and sister. Mahmoud’s disabled father was still in Syria and his mother considered it shameful for a woman to work, forcing Mahmoud to leave school to work as a laborer on a construction site, a dangerous job in Iraq. “My job is difficult,” he said, “and I miss my friends and school.”

In an effort to get Mahmoud back in school, RI’s education team spoke to his mother to try to find a solution that would allow Mahmoud to attend school again. Mahmoud’s mother was initially very reluctant for him to go back to school because she could see no other way for the family to obtain money. RI’s team suggested that she find a job herself and discussed with her the kind of work she could do. She said she had never worked because she considered it shameful but that she did have basic dressmaking skills. RI’s team persuaded her to accompany them to the camp’s job center where she met with advisors who enrolled her in a training course to improve her sewing skills.

Above: Mahmoud in class.

Mahmoud’s mother excelled in the training course and now runs a small but successful sewing business from their tent. She no longer believes that it is shameful for women to work and is proud to be supporting her family and enabling her son to attend school. Most importantly of all, Mahmoud in now happy to be back school where he is working hard to make his dream of becoming a cardiologist come true.

Above: Mahmoud (center) and classmates.

Improving Lives

The majority of RI’s team is composed of Syrian refugees who live in the Dara Shakran Camp. The work RI is doing in the camp allows our staff to earn an income to support their families and provides them with a sense of dignity and hope for the future.

One of our hygiene and sanitation mobilizers, Kalia, was desperately looking for a job when we met her. A married mother of two – Mustafa, aged two, and Sirwan, aged five months, was solely responsible for providing for her family, as her husband is disabled and her extended family remains unemployed.

Before joining RI, Kalia had never worked and is delighted to be earning an income for the first time. RI provided her with the training she needs to help other refugees, and she said she is enjoying being able to assist others. RI’s flexible hours allow her to return home to breastfeed her baby at lunchtime and care for her family.

In her own words, Kalia says that, “Since beginning work, my whole life has changed. I feel proud that I can now support myself and seven other people in my family, and that I can serve other people in my community too.”

RI’s dedicated team in Erbil will continue its work with Syrian refugees in Dara Shakran Camp to promote health and save lives. Perhaps most importantly of all, RI is equipping refugees with the knowledge they need to improve their lives, thereby giving them a degree of control over their situation and offering them hope for a better future.

Learn more about RI’s work with Syrian refugees in Iraq here.

Join us and help support Syrian families here.