Last week, after filling out an official UN request for travel, getting my boss and his boss to sign a travel schedule, and submitting a copy of my passport to Questscope, I finally was able to accompany Questscope on a site visit to the informal education and mentoring sessions in Za’atari refugee camp. The Za’atari refugee camp is now the second largest in the world hosting 160,000 refugees, and is located outside of Mafraq, a small town near the Syrian border in northern Jordan. Jordanian towns are also hosting a lot of refugees, and Mafraq’s population is now made up of more Syrians than Jordanians.
After just about an hour and a half in the car with two of Questscope’s program coordinators, Tawfiq and Dana, we were at the first checkpoint into the camp. Tawfiq and Dana come to the camp on nearly a daily basis throughout the week to monitor the ongoing programs, so we were waved right in without so much as a peek at me and my papers in the backseat.
I peppered patient Tawfiq and Dana with questions as we drove from the first checkpoint, through the front entrance, down a paved road and then eventually through a gravel field until we entered Questscope’s gated compound:
Yes, IFE and Mentoring sessions are still ongoing throughout the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, although sessions are shortened and attendance isn’t quite at 100%.
No, people who are fleeing Syria but are not Syrian (i.e. Palestinians) are not allowed into Za’atari, so all facilitators, students, mentors, and mentees are Syrian.
The reason why no one is playing in that “child friendly” piece of land is because the area is totally exposed to the beating sun and families are afraid to let their children play unguarded.
Tawfiq and Dana got on with their work while I observed an informal education session with 16 girls and three facilitators. Because there is no transportation within the very large expanse of the camp, all of the girls live within walking distance from the Questscope compound. I had the opportunity to have an extended conversation with the facilitator: she was a teacher back home in Syria, but was forced to flee, leaving her husband and son behind. She hasn’t received news from them since.
Leaving the camp, we sat in traffic for quite some time: apparently the road had been blocked by Jordanians protesting the Syrian crisis. Especially in Mafraq where the Syrian to Jordanian ratio is so high, tension has been building as unemployment rates and housing & food costs rise.
I took some simple video of the camp while I was there: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LkvvkCJFAio