Today was a big day. We met with two families who fled 5 years ago due to their homes being unexpectedly bombed or one lady had her house raided by rebels and her son and husband beat at that point the mother grabbed her children and fled Syria. She paid off a guard using her one gold bracelet to get them out of the camps and in to the city (doing all this with 6 children under 12). She is now in a room in a village where they have no furniture and can’t pay rent but the landlord has shown grace and not yet kicked them out. She hasn’t heard from her husband but keeps an old cell phone clutched in her hand in the hope he will find a way to contact her. She isn’t educated so she struggles a lot. She was a stay at home mum in Syria and her husband had a great job they had nice things and a happy life.
Her children were very polite and her 12 year old son is trying to find some work that he can do (Syrians aren’t yet able to enter the workforce legally, although some permits are being accepted for trades and agriculture work) so he can help feed the family. Some of the children attend classes that World Vision provides to try to help educate refugees. One of the boys came home with a certificate one day, as she told us this she started to well up and smile to say it felt like he was a Doctor as she as so proud of him. We all clapped and congratulated him.
So after day one what did I learn?
1) Family is everything
2) At any point everything can change
3) The strength of a mother who wants to protect her children
4) Perspective – what really matters and in the scheme of things what doesn’t matter at all
5) How bad the crisis is and the magnitude of what these families are still going through.
6) We were also told that we shouldn’t feel bad that we have things and others don’t, rather that we should feel blessed and lucky that we have more than enough and we should always focus on helping those in need.
I think the biggest realisation today was that moment when you think ‘wow’ I have so many wonderful things, opportunities and more importantly people in my life and how lucky we are that we get to laugh often, hug regularly and feel safe always.
Another eye opener of a day today. I think after meeting every family today I have a better idea of what to expect and feel a bit more strength to receive their stories.
Highlights today were meeting a very well spoken 16 year old man who taught himself English in the camps in three months. He had a great sense of humour, which was refreshing given the stories we’ve had shared with us, including his are so very sad and scary. He said that when they were fleeing to the border after 3 days of walking in the night, with no food or water, they had to hide in a room while the rebels had a helicopter above them for hours ready to shoot. They had to sedate the babies so they wouldn’t cry and reveal their location. He said everyone was silent and so scared and crying yet he was so tired from walking for 3 days that he slept through the entire thing. He spoke about seeing his friends killed in front of him after they all sat their last English exam, and how that was the moment he realised he and his family needed to leave Syria and seek safety.
I bought a container of bubbles with me as an icebreaker with children if they were uncomfortable having a bunch of strangers in their space. I gave them to a 5 year old who blew bubbles constantly for the two hours we were there and was so thankful when I said she could keep them. She started teaching her other brothers and sisters ‘how to do it’
Today I learnt….
1) How selfless parents are. That all they want is education for their children.
2) That even bubbles are the source of hours of happiness.
3) Witnessing the bond all these families have of true love for one another. After losing friends and extended family right in front of their eyes due to random air strikes it has built this amazing strength and unity of the families who never leave each other sides. I wish I had enough money / it was ok to just leave them cash to pay their rent. All of them have nothing and can’t pay rent and at any point the landlord could kick them on to the street, which is so stressful especially with young babies. That was tough to hear about. Not that they are asking for anything but I admit to really feeling weight on my heart to think that even now their fight is far from over.
Jordan is working on changing its laws to allow some refugees to work here which would help so much. So that is something we can be vocal about too.
Today was tough. Probably the most overwhelming so far, visually I saw things that were hard to swallow. We were in the Azraq Refugee Camp. This is the second camp that Jordan has built and currently has about 30,000 occupants with hundreds more arriving each day once they are cleared via background checks at the border (checking they aren’t Isis). There are now about 50,000 people waiting at the border after fleeing their homes Syria.
The camp itself was impressive. It’s in the middle of the desert for starters. Each ‘house’ / shed (the size of a one car garage ) holds 6 people. If you are a family of 7 or more you will get two houses. They all came with nothing but thanks to aid, when they arrive they get some small mattresses, a gas burner, some hygiene packs and some food stamps. The money they are given is attached to a retina scan so there is no chance of a black market being created in the camp for money or food.
World Vision was responsible for setting up the washroom and bathrooms for each village and now has turned their attention to making child friendly spaces, education and they also made a football field. It’s clear that their efforts now are injecting some quality of life for the families whose future may not ever be back in Syria but yet could be in these camps for quite some time unless the war does down and it’s safe to return home or if the law changes in Jordan and they are able to enter the workforce and earn a living.
One thing that they do have in the camp setting is SAFETY. Safety was the key word that stood out to me today. That even in this awful situation, it still beats what they were going through in Syria. At least here they are not worried about random air strikes. To the families I spoke to, this was the main thing. That the fact they can sleep at night is life changing, and to see their children laughing was what brings them so much joy. Some of the older children seemed the most effected, one boy with a bad skin condition due to the stress of what he saw in Syria, his school being bombed and his friends all dying in front of him, and his mother having a heart attack in the camp last year after a build up of heavy stress.
I had a good day in the sense of seeing how much of a positive impact the World Vision team is having on the quality of life but also feeling overwhelmed that this situation even has to exist for these families who don’t at all deserve it, nor ever asked for it. I wouldn’t survive a night in a camp let alone having to come to the realisation that this might be home for a long while yet. The camp already has projected plans for the next ten years.
The highlight for me today was spending time with the young girls while they played football. They loved my lip balm and blonde hair and tickles ha ha. We also meet a man who was getting married in the camp today. He was so excited. It was hard to not feel so sorry for him and his partner, I am sure getting married in a refugee camp wasn’t how they pictured their big day, but, he was in good spirits and we were all really excited for him.
What I learnt today…
1) How much we take our safety for granted, that it isn’t really till its compromised that you realise.
2) How important it is to feel safe. And also how important laughter is. That even in the direst circumstances, laughter is such a welcomed sound.
Kimberley Crossman is a kiwi actress, author, and presenter. Oh and you are currently on her website reading a blog she has written.