By Carlos Vasquez
AMMAN, JORDAN, 28 September 2012 – As I fill my bags to prepare for my departure back home, I have an overwhelming feeling of emptiness. I want to bring with me the family that crossed the Syrian-Jordanian border overnight, the mother holding her new born child under the Bedouin tent, the child that sells cigarettes to help his family, the child in a wheel chair with no place to go and all those frustrated by the inability of the international community to end the 18 month armed conflict.
There are more than 700,000 Syrian refuges in the region and 150,000 in Jordan alone. The population at the Za’atari camp is now more than 25,000. Everyone is working to help the community in any way possible; UNHCR tents pepper the desert land of Mafraq for hundreds of families without a home, UNICEF delivers more than 1,000,000 liters of water to serve the camp community, with funding from UNICEF the German NGO, THW, has built communal WASH facilities, World Food Programme runs a daily meal program, a few government military contingencies provide health facilities including portable operating rooms and doctors, local organizations like JHCO coordinate daily operations and camp management.
The deployment of prefab structures, funded by the European Union, into urban schools will help existing Jordanian schools to cope with the surge of students into host communities. The focus at the moment is to open the first educational space at Za’atari camp to serve around 2,200 students in a back to school campaign supported by UNICEF. This first site will provide access to gender segregated sanitation facilities and clean drinking water, open play areas, health space and clear boundaries to protect children and the school site.
This is a grain of sand in an immense sand dune, but the objective is to bring a sense of security, dignity and normalcy back into the lives of children at the camp. We want to go even further and create examples of healthy environments in the school that can be replicated in the camp life; food production activities, creative ways to improve the environment, tree planting activities and social norms that harvest children’s cooperation and coexistence.
In a complex political and ever more instable region, the modest contribution by the school at Za’atari Camp could become a regional model to respond to existing and future emergencies driven by conflict, famine and natural disasters.
Every day that passes without a resolution, is one day less in the lives of thousands of children who have been deprived their right to live a healthy childhood. Perhaps when the Za’atari school opens next Monday, 1 October, this feeling will dissipate and my bags will be filled by the smiles and satisfaction of the 2,200 students attending their new school.