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Jordan: Finding new ways to cope with a very different future

Francine Uenuma, Save the Children in Jordan

ZA’ATARI CAMP, Mafraq, Jordan –  Home to 130,000 people and counting, Za’atari is a massive, sprawling sea of tents and caravan-like structures serving as home, all of it blanketed in a thick coat of dust. It’s hard to distinguish one row from another, but dotting the landscape are a few playgrounds, brightly painted murals on the side of Child Friendly Spaces, kindergartens, and a soccer pitch where teenage boys can break from daily life in the camp – especially rough for young people at a loose end – for a series of drills from instructors.

One of these safe spaces is Save the Children’s multi-activity centre for teenage girls, where they can learn skills from new languages to crafts. Today they are making soap, their props a mountain of glycerine, olive oil, a propane burner, and gloves covered in dye. Saba*, 16, tells us, “when I go back to Syria, I will teach other girls this and maybe start my own business.”

In another room, photojournalist Agnes Montanari, who is a consultant with Save the Children, is listening intently to a radio broadcast. The reporter behind it is a teenager who has gone out into the camp and interviewed two families about a problem they are having with their sewage. The trucks don’t come by often enough, they tell her, so they have had to dig holes and dispose of it. They are concerned that their children may fall in, and about the health issues. The reporter then follows up with staff from an organisation at the camp that helps with sewage disposal and includes this interview in her broadcast.

A new perspective through photography

Montanari has a similar project for photography, where teens can take photos to document their experiences and environment. She says she came here hoping to help young people tell their own story and shape the narrative around their experience – and by doing so, find a new perspective.

“Using a camera is like having new eyes to see everyday things in a different way,” she says. “Instead of being victims, these teenagers become actors again. After the first three months, one of my students said that taking pictures had allowed him to see beautiful things in the camp. The other important aspect of the class…was allowing the students to express themselves, not only talking about their life in Syria but also about their hopes and dreams. For some of them, becoming a photographer or a photojournalist has become a goal.”

She also says that learning these skills has helped them to become more focused and better articulate their thoughts.

It’s critically important to maintain these spaces within Za’atari – to give children and teens a safe and comfortable environment to learn skills, make new friends, and find new ways to cope with the very different future they now face.

*Names have been changed to protect identities

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