Home to 130,000 people and counting, Za’atari refugee camp is a massive, sprawling sea of tents, “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 the teens and children here who find themselves at loose ends - for a series of drills from instructors.
One of these safe spaces is Save the Children’s multi-activity center for teen girls, where they are learning a series of skills from language lessons to making crafts. Today they are making soap – a mountain of glycerine, olive oil, a propane burner, gloves covered in dyes. 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, about the health concerns this poses. The reporter then follows up with staff from an organization at the camp that helps with disposal of sewage, including the interview in her broadcast.
It’s a refreshing sight – a story that’s been told about refugees many times, this time being reported by a young refugee. 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 teens find a new perspective – helping them tell their own story and shaping the narrative around their experience.
“Using a camera is like having new eyes to see everyday things in a different way. Instead of being victims, they become actors again. One of my students, at the end of the first three months said that taking pictures had allowed him to see beautiful things in the camp,” she says. “The other important aspect of the class…was allowing the students to express themselves, not only to talk about their life in Syria but also about their hopes and dreams, and becoming a photographer, a photojournalist has become, for some of them, a goal.”
She says learning these skills has also 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 new future they now face.
Read Save the Children's report Hunger in a War Zone
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