A Rock and a Hard Place
By Philip Jinadu, World Vision Supporter
Nothing can prepare you for Azraq Refugee Camp. Over an hour’s drive from civilisation, across an unfinished motorway threaded through the desert, you finally get to Azraq - a huge, sprawling camp in the middle of nowhere. Row upon row of white metal huts stretch into the distance, even and sterile.
Walking through the camp you get a sense of lives on hold, a purgatory existence where 30,000 people are kept safe from harm, but going nowhere. Perhaps that’s why so many Syrian refugees have chosen to leave and take their chances living in regular Jordanian communities. Azraq could take many more, but few want to stay here.
Yet for the 80% of refugees who live in host communities, life is bleak in other ways. Last week I met families unable to work, struggling and uncertain about the future. They were people I could so easily identify with, people who had regular jobs and houses and cars…right up until they found themselves in the middle of a conflict they had no say over. Most of them stayed for as long as they could until shellings and starvation forced them to find a way out.
“We’re not terrorists,” one man told us. “We just want a future for our children.”
It seems the refugees face a stark choice between the soulless camps and a hand-to-mouth existence on the margins of society.
Yet, speaking to refugee families inside the camp and in the communities, I came away with a very real sense of hope. And it’s because of the nature of the work that World Vision is doing in Jordan.
We saw World Vision’s work in schools, giving both Syrian and Jordanian children the opportunity to catch up with schooling they’ve missed. It’s hard for Syrian children to register with schools struggling to meet the vast need. And any child that falls behind by three years is automatically excluded from the educational system for good. World Vision’s after-school classes enable excluded children to get educated and catch up. The children I met were full of optimism, dreams for their future and hope about what they could achieve.
In the camps I heard about school feeding programmes, encouraging children to come to school each day. And I found ‘fun’ spaces, like the amazing football pitch built by World Vision, a bright beacon of green Astroturf in the middle of the rocky desert. A place that not only serves children, but where men, unable to work, can feel what it’s like to be normal, enjoy life, form a community and build relationships.
“This is the height of their joy every week,” the coach there told us.
The Syrian refugee situation is a humanitarian crisis on a scale we’ve not seen before. But I came away convinced more than ever that what World Vision does as part of this response is vitally important.
It’s about more than just the mechanics of housing and feeding, processing and monitoring. It’s about restoring dignity, care and hope – sometimes through the little things that don’t make it onto a government spread sheet. It’s about putting the human back into humanitarian.
In April 2014, Azraq, a new refugee camp, opened in the north of Jordan, and World Vision planned, built and installed the largest part of the water and sanitation infrastructure of the camp and conducted hygiene awareness sessions in schools and kindergartens. Recently, World Vision partnered with One Goal and Premier League in Azraq to build football pitches, organise leagues, and train coaches.
The majority of our work in Jordan is now in host communities. These include distribution of food, water vouchers and winter items, as well as remedial education classes for children and child and adolescent friendly spaces for Syrian refugees and vulnerable Jordanian families. Philip recently visited many of these projects as part of World Vision UK’s Barefoot Coatless campaign.