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Children of Zaatari

December 7, 2012


Jordan’s Zaatari refugee camp in the northern town of Mafraq now has about 45,000 registered inhabitants, though some camp officials estimate the number to be closer to 30,000, due the number of Syrians that sneak out of the camp, go back to Syria or legally leave with the help of a Jordanian sponsor to live in the country. Over half of them are age 17 and under.

When you walk through that camp of thousands, inevitably you will see children everywhere. You may even be followed by groups of them, begging for you to take their photograph. I was. During the many days I have spent in Zaatari over the past month and a half, I often think of those children and something a Syrian mother said to me in September: “This is a generation that is being ruined.”

I understand what she means. These children’s lives have been uprooted, their schooling disrupted. They’ve lost uncles, aunts, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters. They witnessed things that children should never have to – family members killed in front of their eyes, snipers on their walk to school, houses bombed out, tanks in the street. They’ve hidden in underground shelters for days at a time and for those that are now living in Zaatari, experienced a terrifying journey from their homes in Syria to Jordan. “We prayed to God to give us a safe passage to Jordan,” two young sisters told me of their crossing the border.

Though the trend of Zaatari arrivals shows there has been a dramatic decrease in the number of Syrians coming to the camp from Syria from the highest in August and September, the continued fighting and violence promises sustained flow of refugees into Jordan, as well neighboring Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq.

These children embody the spirit of true resilience. I have been inspired by their strength and their ability to adapt to life in the camp. Spending time with so many kids in Zaatari gave me hope that this isn’t a generation being ruined, but rather one under siege that like many of the children, will emerge stronger. I admit, it’s naive to think that the war won’t have a lasting impact on their ideology. That it won’t make them hard. That the trauma hasn’t changed their personalities and the people they’ll become forever. That this war won’t cause young people to be filled with hate, anger and vengefulness.

The human cost of this war has been so  high. But I have faith in this generation to overcome, though I know it’s no easy task. In Zaatari, before the children overcome the damage that the war has caused them, they must first make it through the impending winter.

It’s clear there will be no easy road back to a normal life for these kids – even when one has been cleared of Syrian regime forces.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Diana McClure permalink
    December 8, 2012 12:26 am

    Heart wrenching! What an experience you’re haing, Melissa. Diana

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