SCAN Social Media Manager Samra Khawaja visiting the Zaatari Syrian Refugee Camp in Jordan.
Located in the heart of the Middle East, Jordan is unique for many things: an abundant culture, delicious cuisine and the famous archaeological site, Petra. But, what’s putting Jordan on the map now is largely who it shares its borders with – Syria, the West Bank, Israel and Iraq. All of these countries have political instability and ongoing conflict, pushing more than 755,000 refugees from different countries into Jordan. Yet despite the instability surrounding it, Jordan remains safe, protected and as I got to witness, welcoming.
Since 2012, Jordan has opened its arms to Syrian refugees who fled their homes during the Syrian Civil War. Nearly 80,000 of these refugees live in the Zaatari Refugee Camp, the largest Syrian camp in the country. As a part of a week-long trip in Jordan, I had the chance to visit this camp and see firsthand the work that’s being done by Save the Children Jordan to help provide services to families and children.
One of the most impactful programs Save the Children Jordan is operating at Zaatari are the Early Learning Centers for kids between the ages of three and four. The program emphasizes teaching kids the basics such as the alphabet, numbers, art and geography. I couldn’t wait to visit one of these centers!
We walked into the first classroom greeting the kids by saying hello, “Merhaba!” To our dismay, they ignored us. We called again. This time the room full of two dozen kids yelled back with giggles saying, “MERHABA!” They quickly went back to their coloring sheets.
With the sounds of their laughter, it was clear that these kids were just interested in being kids. They weren’t phased by living in metal shacks nor did they have a sense of displacement. Many of the kids in the early learning centers who were born at the camp had no understanding where they were, where their families came from and that they were refugees.
I learned each class is led by two instructors: a Save the Children Jordan staff member and a Syrian refugee volunteer. This is done so that children don’t feel like they are outsiders and are taught by someone they can relate with. The setup has a two-fold effect because it also positions the Syrian volunteer with an opportunity to stay engaged at the camp and learn skills they can take with them when they leave the camp.
The Early Learning Centers don’t just benefit the kids. They also benefit the parents. Each week, sessions are held for mothers and fathers to educate them on how to keep the learning going once kids are at home. They’re also taught about children’s rights such as their rights to safety, education and protection. Although these refugees may feel far away from us, it’s amazing to see how the power of education impacts us all – no matter where we’re from.
Ensuring that children have access to quality early learning is the greatest investment we can make for our world’s future. Educating vulnerable people, particularly young refugees, is the least we can do to give them a sense of normalcy in their lives and a chance at a bright future.