Visit to Za’atari Refugee Camp

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

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About Laura McAdams

Laura McAdams is a Master’s student at University of Pennsylvania studying International Educational Development. Her experience in the MENA region includes 15 months as a Fulbright student researcher to Fez and Ifrane, Morocco in 2010 and 2011. Her project was interested in understanding the disconnect between the policies of technology usage in education and the reality of how these policies unfold in the classroom. Summer 2012 she returned to the Middle Atlas mountains of Morocco to work with a women’s weaving cooperative. She is excited to learn more about other countries in the MENA region and issues involving education policy and reform, technology usage in curriculums and gender equality in education. One of Laura’s lifelong goals is to one day be able to sit down and leisurely read a newspaper in Arabic.
This entry was posted in International Educational Development Program at UPenn, 2012-2013 and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Visit to Za’atari Refugee Camp

  1. Sean Snyder says:

    Completely fascinating Laura. I am envious of you being on the ground there. Looking forward to hearing more.

    • Thanks Sean. It has been very interesting to get a peek at how multilateral organizations and NGOs work in crisis situations and refugee camps. I think it would take a long time to understand how everything works: especially with my limited capacity and access as an intern at UNESCO, a part of the UN body that isn’t really leading the charge in the field of education in the camp (that would be UNICEF here). Still though, it has been great to have the opportunity to witness life in the camp and learn from the refugees themselves & people who work in the camp on a daily basis.

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