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Jordan: Connecting with the children who fall through the gaps

Francine Uenuma, Save the Children in Jordan

Since Syrians began fleeing their homes two and a half years ago, we have seen countless images of large camps full of those who have left. Jordan is home to the largest of these, Za’atari, which is sheltering 130,000 people – but there are many more refugees scattered in host communities, who are struggling to get the services they need.

In Amman, Save the Children is connecting with this hard-to-reach segment of the refugee population. We recently visited a Child Friendly Space (CFS)  in the older, eastern part of the city – a bright, cheerful place, where children have adorned the walls with drawings and crafts. In this room, Save the Children staff and Syrian volunteers help 29 children play, learn and express themselves in a non-threatening environment.

Shireena’s story

We spoke to to 10-year-old Shireena*, who is in Amman with her mother and siblings. Her father has been missing for more than a year. Shireena has been out of school for two years, and like many children in a similar situation, the CFS is her only structured activity. “We draw and we play… we sing and tell stories,” she says. “We get to be happy.” Despite being unable to attend school, she tells us she wants to grow up to be a doctor because “if something happens to you or someone close to you, you can help them.”

Zeina’s story

As we prepare to leave, the teacher tells us someone wants to speak to us. Zeina*, 8, is shy – she speaks so softly we can barely hear her. The first thing she says is that she is worried about her father. She saw him after he was shot in both legs and crippled – a horrifying image for anyone, much less a child, to witness. She says she is very concerned for her father because they are often not sure where he is. Her expression conveys the sadness and worry that she carries with her. Here at the CFS, she likes to draw her old neighborhood, to be able to express her memories of a home she still misses.

Reaching children like Shireena and Zeina, as well as their families (the centre also holds sessions for parents and helps connect them to much-needed services), is a priority for Save the Children in this crisis, and critically important in urban areas like this. Many parents can’t afford transport, so free buses bring children to the centre. Parents have told teachers that they see a positive change in their children’s behavior – less aggression, more friendliness – as a result of their time here.

Nonetheless, the number of children spread across cities who do not have access to programmes like this is too high. Their lives have changed out of all recognition; like Shireena and Zeina, these children need support and assistance to cope.

* All names have been changed to protect identities

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