Destruction caused by arial shelling in Eastern Ghouta, 25th February 2018.

Seven Years since the Syrian Dream

The Conflict in Syria is not “Normal”

After seven years of war in Syria, we hear more and more that the general public is becoming desensitized to the conflict. As horrible as the news reports are, the stories are no longer shocking. But we must never accept suffering and human rights violations as “the new normal.” The crisis in Syria is unacceptable—and it’s getting worse.

In the U.S., people work hard to achieve the American dream. Before the conflict, families throughout Syria were pursuing their Syrian dream—sending their children to school, buying what they wanted, working and running businesses. That was their normal.

When you listen to displaced Syrians describe life before the conflict, it sounds a lot like the lives my friends, family and neighbors live:

Just as we strive to raise our children in peaceful communities surrounded by neighbors, friends and relatives, a mom named Haya* reflected to us that: “Ours was a simple quiet village.” Seven-year-old Amer* recollected that: “My grandfather used to lift me and pick me up, play with me. My memories of Syria are we went for a walk at night, with my father and my mother. We bought something sweet.”

Sadly, seven years on, we know that many places in Syria are anything but quiet. Escalation in fighting forced more than a million people across Syria from their homes in the last three months of 2017.

Just as we dream of owning homes and giving our children more than we ever had, 7-year-old Lubna* told us: “I had a big, big home. My grandmother got me a toy, I remember that. I had a white room and it had a closet. The closet had a lot of clothes in it. I had a lot of toys in Syria.”

Today, homes in communities like Eastern Ghouta are being decimated by bombings. Satellite images show neighborhoods with the majority of their buildings destroyed. Basic services like sewage, electricity and water are gone.

Just as we are ambitious and work hard to provide for our families, one young boy we met named Mushen* told us: “We used to have chickens and sheep in Syria. My dad had a small shop. We also had two cars.”

Now, in besieged communities in Syria, 80 to 90 percent of people  are now unemployed and even staple foods are unaffordable for many families.

Just as we send our children to school and want them to be safe, 13-year-old Rasha* remembered that: “My school was really nice, it had two playgrounds. I really liked the school and had many friends.”

But in Syria, attacks often target schools and hospitals. In Eastern Ghouta alone, more than 60 schools have been hit by bombing in the first two months of 2018. Many schools operate in basements because of bombings. Children are years behind in basic reading and math skills.

We must actively resist the feeling that what we are seeing out of Syria is normal. It would not be for us and it is not for Syrian families who are desperate for peace. Seven years of conflict must end now. Millions of Syrians are dreaming of rebuilding their lives.

Since 2012, Save the Children has been supporting children and families both inside and outside of Syria. Our programs address physical and psychosocial health, return children to education, give them safe spaces to play, provide food and more. Save the Children will continue to raise its voice for those affected by the Syrian conflict. On March 15, join us by sharing your message of hope for Syrians on social media with the hashtag #7WordsForSyria.

Lubna*, 20 days old, at an IDP camp in Iraq.

Born On The Run: Young Iraqi Mothers Fleeing ISIS Give Birth Anywhere They Can

With the battle for West Mosul still raging, and ISIS increasingly using civilians as human shields as coalition airstrikes continue, many expectant mothers are fleeing for their lives – in some cases even giving birth on the run.

Layla* is just three days old and was born in the ruins of an abandoned house, with shelling and shooting all around. Her 17-year-old mother Rehab* was just days away from her due date when the fighting in her neighborhood got unbearable and forced her and her family to flee in the middle of the night.

Rehab fell repeatedly as they tried to escape and went into labor hours into the journey.

“I went into labor on the road. I was very scared for me and my baby but my mother and another older woman helped me,” said Rehab. “It was very quick, maybe just 15 minutes. We rested for about another 30 minutes and then we started running again.”

The family is now in Hamam Al Alil reception center, the main focal point for those fleeing Mosul, where more than 242,000 have been registered since the offensive began.

Most people are relocated quickly, but with thousands arriving every day and more than 320,000 people displaced since the Mosul offensive began six months ago, families, many with young children, are falling through the gaps.

Save the Children is distributing water, toiletries and newborn kits in the camps and have built and continue to clean latrines in the reception center.

Twenty-day old Lubna* has been in the center for almost two weeks. Her 15-year-old mother Reem* was in labor for more than two days but could not get medical care due to the fighting raging outside. The second she was strong enough, her and her mother Masa* fled with several other members of their family.

“Her delivery was very hard, very hard indeed, but there was nothing we could do because of the fighting. We wanted to leave Mosul,” says Masa.

“My brother has been killed and we wanted to go but Reem was too weak, so we stayed for five days and then we left and walked to safety. Thank God Lubna is healthy but we are very worried about her and that she will get sick in a place like this.”

Marwa*, 5 months, at Hamam al-Alil IDP camp in Iraq. Marwa*s mother Ashna* and her father Salar* fled fighting in Mosul with their six young children, including Marwa*. Marwa* said: "The journey was hard and me and the children were very scared. But all I could think about was how we needed to get to safety and how I needed to keep my children safe – so that drove me and kept me going even though the children were very hungry and they were crying a lot. My older children were able to walk but we had to carry the younger ones in our arms – I carried Marwa*, while my husband carried my son and my uncle my other daughter. Marwa* is sick. Ten days ago she got a high fever and bad diarrhea. We were given medicine but it is not working and then, about two days ago, she got a bad cough that is getting worse. Luckily she sleeps at night, but her diarrhea never stops. It is very difficult to deal with this here. There is no privacy at all. Neither me, nor the baby, have had a shower since we arrived 20 days ago and I have five other young children to look after. We all have to sleep on the floor in the tent with many other families. It is noisy and dirty."
Marwa*, 5 months, at an IDP camp in Iraq. Marwa*s mother Ashna* and her father Salar* fled fighting in Mosul with their six young children.

Save the Children’s Deputy County Director Aram Shakaram says:

“The situation inside the reception center is extremely poor and there is a widespread shortage of food, water and blankets. Whole families sleep on nothing but cardboard, huddling together for warmth at night.

“Very young babies, many just days or weeks old are living in these conditions and their mothers, some who are as young as 15, are not getting the support they need.

“With 325,000 people still displaced since the Mosul offensive began and thousands still fleeing every day, it is imperative that we get more funding to support new mothers and their extremely vulnerable children who are starting their lives off in camps.”

Save the Children provides education and psychosocial support to children displaced from Mosul and our child protection teams work in the reception centers to identify cases needing urgent assistance, like unaccompanied minors.

Since the offensive began, we have distributed 3,740 newborn care packages, which have reached almost 11,500 infants. We have also distributed 7,000 rapid response kits that have reached almost 33,000 people and contain essentials like food, water and toiletries for the newly displaced. In addition we are also working to provide clean drinking water and basic sanitation to tens of thousands of people who have fled from Mosul.

To learn more about our response to the refugee crisis and how you can help, click here.

*Names changed for protection

Children’s Education is Simply too Important to be a Casualty of War

A blog post by Helle Thorning-Schmidt, CEO of Save the Children International and former Prime Minister of Denmark, and Julia Gillard, Chair of the Global Partnership for Education and former Prime Minister of Australia


When Ali* and his family fled their home in Syria shortly after the war broke out, they had nothing but the clothes on their backs and hope for a better future. Five years on, that hope has turned to despair. Now in Lebanon, none of the family’s six children attend formal schooling, and 15-year-old Ali and his younger brother must work to support their family, digging potatoes for just $4 USD per day.

With wars and persecution driving more than 20 million people worldwide – half of them children – to seek protection in other countries, many are struggling to access basic services. This includes healthcare and education, and the important day-to-day needs of food and shelter.

While education is the single most important tool we can equip children with, it is often one of the first casualties of conflicts and emergencies. Less than 2 percent of global humanitarian funding is currently provided to pay for learning during crises – thereby wasting the potential of millions of children worldwide. Formal learning provides children with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed, while giving them hope for the future. It also gives children who have experienced the trauma and horrors of war and disaster the stability and sense of familiarity they need to be children, while protecting them from the risks of exploitation. Despite the generosity of many countries hosting large refugee populations – the vast majority of which are developing countries – most are struggling to provide refugees with the most basic services, including education. The situation is especially bleak in countries where a third generation of children has now been born into displacement.

Enrollment in primary school among these vulnerable children is well below the national average in places like Lebanon, Uganda, Kenya and Malaysia – a gap which is even more startling among secondary school-aged refugees. In fact, refugee children globally are five times less likely to attend school than other children, with 50 percent of primary school-aged refugee children and 75 percent of secondary school-aged children completely left out of the education system.

A poll commissioned by Save the Children in April found that 77 percent of respondents in 18 countries think children fleeing conflict have as much right to an education as any other child. Yet, for 3.2 million refugee children around the world like Ali and his siblings – who want nothing more than to learn and go to school – education is often an unattainable dream. We simply cannot allow this to continue.

Nearly one month ago at the World Humanitarian Summit, several organizations, including the Global Partnership for Education and Save the Children, joined forces with governments and donors to stop education from falling through the cracks during emergencies. Save the Children also committed to campaigning to get all refugee children back in school within a month of being displaced. Being a refugee cannot be synonymous with missing out on a quality education or being denied a better future – especially when vulnerable children have been forced to flee their homes and countries through no fault of their own. In short, refugee children deserve the right to a quality education as much as any other child.

We know that host countries need support from the international community and understand that no single country can solve this challenge on its own. But we also know that political will is key to solving this challenge.

Our goal is simple – to get millions of refugee children affected by crises back in school, where they belong.

The Education Cannot Wait fund has the potential to be a game changer, but only if governments, donors and aid organizations come together to prioritize, support, coordinate and properly fund this mechanism.

While $90 million USD have been generously pledged to date, billions more will be needed over the next few years if we are to reach our goal of getting 75 million children affected by crises back to school by 2030. Only then can we meet the Sustainable Development Goals set out by the UN, and ensure that no child in the world is ‘left behind.’

Accountability and transparency will be key to the success of Education Cannot Wait – so too will be ensuring that any money pledged for education in emergencies is new, and not simply taken from aid already earmarked for life-saving services like healthcare and nutrition.

In September, world leaders and donors will come together at two key global meetings on the issue of refugees and migrants – this most pressing challenge of our time. We urge those in attendance at the UN high-level meeting and the leader’s summit to prioritize education for children in emergencies and protracted crisis, including those who have been displaced.

With the right opportunities and the chance to learn, children like Ali will no longer be pressured to work – giving him and his family the hope they need to rebuild their lives, and potentially their country, if or when it is safe for them to return.

To learn about Save the Children’s work to help refugee children, click here. 

*Name changed for protection

We Came Here Last Year as Tourists


 Karl Schembri, Middle East Regional Media Manager, Save the Children International


June 26, 2014


I’m walking around Erbil’s city centre with our assessment team as they look around inside motels for displaced Iraqi families in need of help. One family after another, they all tell us how they’re running out of money, having to move out onto the streets with no clue where to go.

Iraq Blog 1

Sufian*, 12, and his sister, Fatima*, 14, in the family's hotel room in Erbil. The family fled the violence in their hometown Tikrit. Photo: Hedinn Halldorsson/Save the Children 

In a small motel tucked in the bazaar just a minute’s walk away from the historic citadel, I meet 12-year-old Sufian*. His parents and two siblings are crammed in a room. A little suitcase lies on the bed as they collect the few belongings they brought with them when they fled from the hellish explosions and gunfire in Tikrit a week ago. His father, clearly distraught, tells me their money has run out and they are now leaving. 

“We came here a year ago as tourists during Eid al Adha,” Sufian tells me. “We know the motel owner; we stayed here last year. He’s been very kind to us and gave us slashed prices, but my father has no more money left. Where will we go? Maybe in the streets, in the parks… there’s no place for us.”

Here is a middle income family who afforded to come as tourists last year, right in the same place where they are now seeking refuge. Sufian himself grasps the bitter irony and goes on to explain to me what it feels like.

“When we travelled as tourists we felt safe, there were policemen at the border and everything was orderly. We came to relax, we were comfortable. It’s not the case as displaced people. We had to flee from explosions, armed men, no security.

“When we came as tourists we got all the things we needed; our clothes and all the stuff you need when you’re travelling. When you’re fleeing you have to escape quickly. We couldn’t bring anything except the clothes we have on us.”

Iraq Blog 2

Sufian *, 12, Fatima *, 14, and their little brother, Kamal*, 6, in the family's hotel room. "Even if it's not safe to go there, I want to avoid ending up on the street", said the children's father. "I tell my little brother stories when he has nightmares during the night", Sufian says. Photo: Hedinn Halldorsson/Save the Children 

Having to flee like that is something Sufian and his family never expected to have to go through. He dreamt of becoming a doctor to help people in need, but now the future is bleak, he doesn’t even know where he will sleep tonight and the tragedy is still sinking in. He misses his friends, his neighborhood, playing football with his mates. He tells me his 6-year-old brother gets nightmares at night, so he consoles him by telling him stories until he sleeps again.

But it’s a nightmare for the entire family, really, as it is for thousands of others fleeing from the raging conflict in Iraq right now. One might say we are all tourists in this fleeting life of ours, but nobody should be forced to flee from home, leaving everything behind, with no idea where to spend the night.

*Names have have been changed to protect identities.

Syrian Kids, Lebanese Schools: A New “Normal”



When we came inside the tent, the Syrian family of eight welcomed us warmly and urged us to sit close to the small stove in the center for warmth.


While the weather had improved from the previous weeks when a winter storm dropped several inches of snow and temperatures dropped below freezing, it was still very chilly.  It looked like the children were wearing many of the clothes they owned, layer upon layer, though the smallest little girl still had bare feet.  With our Lebanon team translating, we talked and learned how this family fled Syria under fire on their farm near Homs and had been living in this makeshift camp of about 100 families for close to a year.  None of the children, from high school age down to four years old, had been able to go to school since they left home—but their father talked proudly about how they had excelled back in Syria, when all had a house to live in and a school to go to. Now, he said, he feared they would fall so far behind they could never catch up.  And we learned later that several of the children were working as laborers to support the family, something the father was too ashamed to tell the strangers who came to visit.


Child refugees from Syria now number over one million across the region, with an estimated 400,000 in Lebanon alone.  For most of these children, their childhood has been put on hold and for many it will never be revisited.  Many teenagers will most likely never go back to school.  What will this mean for the future of Syria when families are finally able to return?


My first trip to Lebanon since the crisis in Syria was a sobering one.  It is a country of about four million people and is now home to close to one million refugees from Syria—25% of its population.  That’s like if 75 million people suddenly arrived on our borders in Texas or California.  We would certainly be reeling if such a thing happened and the Lebanese are struggling too.  Given the infrastructure challenges of such a huge influx of people, it’s not a surprise that many children have not been able to get into school even two or three years after they left Syria.


Luckily, small efforts are making a big difference for these children. We visited a government school in Bekaa Valley that has agreed to run “second shift” programs for Syrian children.  Here, with support from Save the Children, kids are able to come to school in the afternoons for about three hours, after the regular classes have left, and have basic instruction in math, reading and science in their native languages of Arabic and English.  Some instruction in regular Lebanese classrooms is in French, a language very few Syrian children speak, making it tough for Syrian children to attend regular classes in Lebanon. Though “second shift” does not provide a full day of instruction, dedicated teachers are able to at least keep kids leaning and engaged.  


IMG_5436But probably the biggest benefit of this effort is what being back in the classroom means for these children emotionally.  In stark contrast to the quiet, withdrawn children we met in tents in the makeshift camps, kids at the school were smiling, jumping up eagerly to answer the teacher’s questions, joking and playing with us and just so obviously happy to be in school, a place that seemed to finally make them feel like normal kids again.


It’s heartbreaking to think that millions of kids inside and outside Syria aren’t benefiting from being in a classroom. Save the Children is working hard to make sure that more Syrian children have the chance to get back to school, get back to a (new) “normal” and get back to experiencing the childhood they need and deserve.


You can help the Children of Syria by joining my fundraising team at

New Boots Bring Hope in Jordan

The kindergarten inside the Za’atari camp in Jordan is a little island of happiness inside a place that is full of tragedy. Here, 3-5 year-old Syrian children living in the huge camp are able to come three times per week in the morning or afternoon to have fun, build social skills and start learning. The brightly colored space, the simple toys, the dedicated young teachers all serve as a respite from the tough, grinding life these children have been living for months or even years in the camp. On my recent visit to Za’atari, the kids got something else too. New winter boots, specially made and provided to Save the Children by TOMS Shoes, were distributed to 9,000 children. As you can see from this video, the reactions were truly wonderful to see.


TOMS is pretty unique among our partners. Many have not supported our efforts for Syria due to fears of political issues within the conflict or lack of focus on the Middle East. But TOMS entire business model is built on the idea that for each pair of shoes purchased, a pair of appropriate shoes will be given to someone who needs them—the company has now given away more than 10 million pairs of shoes worldwide. You won’t find the rubber boots we gave out in Za’atari camp at any shoe store in the U.S.

World Humanitarian Day: Unsung Hero Devotes Her Life to Help Syrian Children in Crisis


Tue Jakobsen, Communications Officer

Save the Children in Iraq

August 19, 2013

is 28 years-old and is from Baghdad. Nine months ago, she moved 280 miles away
from all of her friends and family into the Iraqi desert to work as a Child
Protection Officer for Save the Children. She was the first woman to work in the refugee camp near Al Qaim.   

Hadeel1A well-educated psychologist, Hadeel decided to do
what very few others do: leave career, friends and family to live in an
extremely dangerous and inhospitable place haunted by extreme temperatures and
reoccurring sandstorms.

“I am passionate about child protection. I was offered
better jobs back in Baghdad where I have my friends and family, but I wanted to
work in child protection and so I ended up here.”

Part of Hadeel’s compassion comes from her own
experience as a refugee.

“My family fled to Syria when the war started here in
Iraq in 2003, and we stayed there for one year. While living as a refugee in
Syria, I experienced firsthand how children fleeing their home need special
care and attention. And I feel that I owe it back to the Syrian people to
support them the best I can, since they supported my family and my people 10
years ago.”


forgotten refugees

West of Baghdad, the Iraqi province of Al Anbar
stretches for hundreds of miles along the border with Syria and Jordan to the
west and Saudi Arabia to the south. It is mostly desert and, while it is Iraq’s
biggest province, it is also the least populated. The harsh climate proves hard
to live in for even the most rugged Iraqis.

The road from Baghdad follows the Euphrates Riber, and
after a seven-hour drive you reach the small border town of Al Qaim. Here, close
to the Syrian border, lies a refugee camp unknown by the most of the world: Al
Obeidy. Compared to the well-known Za’atari camp in Jordan, one of the world’s
largest, this is a small camp.

Yet more than 2,000 Syrians – more than half of these
children – have sought refuge here. Dwarfed by other refugee camps across the
region, Al Obeidy does not receive the attention and support needed; competition
for attention is hard when around two million refugees have now fled Syria, and
many millions more are still trapped inside the country.

“The families in the camp fled the insecurity of Syria
but ended up in Al Qaim where the security isn’t good either. Many left family
members behind and haven’t been able to get in contact with them since. And now
that the border is closed there is little hope for separated families to
reunite any time soon,” says Hadeel.


situation is very dire”

Save the Children is one of the few aid agencies
working in Al Obeidy camp, and Hadeel has worked with Save the Children there for
the last nine months.

“When I arrived in the camp for the first time, the
conditions were really bad. It was very unclean and with a distinct smell of
trash. We had serious concerns about the impact on the children’s health. And
at the same time there was a complete lack of services for the refugees in the

Over the months she has been able to follow closely how
the conditions in the camp have developed.

“To be quite honest, the situation hasn’t changed much
since I arrived. We recently relocated to a new camp and that should have
improved the refugee’s situation, but the tents here are in a very bad
condition. They have been affected by the bad weather in winter and now they
are contaminated to a degree where children get respiratory diseases from
living in them. The situation is very dire.”


children cope with life in camp

The conflict has had a terrible impact on Syria’s
children. Reports estimate that at least 7,000 children have already lost their
lives. And stories of the abuses of children such as torture, sexual violence,
beatings and threats are everywhere. The children have a great need for
psycho-social support, says Hadeel.

“The children are very affected by what they have been
through, though they don’t want to talk about their experiences. But from their
behavior and their paintings it is clear that they have experienced things no
child should. I remember one girl who came to our Child-friendly space. For the
first couple of months all she drew were pictures of war and weapons destroying
her home.”

How do you work with children affected by war? The
recipe, Hadeel describes, is to try to restore a sense of normality in the
children’s lives.

“We have a wide range of activities in the Child-friendly
Spaces. Some are designed to keep the children physically active. Some are
focused on getting the children to express their emotions through painting,
drawing or storytelling. Others are focused on information-sharing and
skill-building: learning about basic child rights or joining a computer
training class. And we also try to raise the children’s awareness on issues
like hygiene and health. We try to restore as many parts of the children’s
normal life as possible while at the same time provide the specialized support
they need.”

Hadeel has no doubt that the activities help the
children adapt to life in the camp.  

“We had a five-year-old girl who attended our
Child-friendly Space but didn’t really participate and kept to herself. She was
very sad and had clearly been harmed by her experiences in Syria. The
facilitators then put a lot of effort in getting her involved while giving her
room to draw by herself. And slowly, after two months, she started to open up.
Now she participates in the activities and builds relationships with the other

While Save the Children’s programs and activities are focused
on children, the impact reaches the entire family. Parents don’t have to worry
about their children’s safety while they are at the Child-friendly Space. That
gives them some much needed time to solve practical problems.

“We get positive response from the parents. Their own
capacity is stretched and their biggest concern is their children, so it is
also a refuge for them to send the children to a safe space. We had one family
with four children attending activities, who, during a focus group interview,
expressed their gratitude that we could host their children”.


“We are
really making a difference”

Despite Hadeel’s commitment, she admits that it hasn’t
been easy to move to Al Qaim, and that she does pay a price for her devotion.

“It wasn’t an easy decision. My father supported my
move. He has always support me what ever I did. But my mother and my sisters
asked me not to go. They are concerned by the security situation out here, and
none of them have been able to visit me out here because of the unsafe travel
through Anbar.”

And life far from home can be a challenge even though
you are still in your own country.

“This isn’t an easy place to live. Life here is just
so different from in Baghdad. The community here is also very different. For
example, I didn’t were a head scarf back in Baghdad, but here I have to. We
depend on community support so it is important to follow the local customs. But
my work with the children means a lot, and we are really making a difference.
So it is definitely worth it.”

Hadeel finds some light in the children’s dreams for
the future.

“I am especially happy about the long lasting impact
we make on the children. Many of the children tell us that when they return to
Syria they want to work as teachers or as children’s activity facilitators and
volunteers with Save the Children. It is touching and gives a sense of hope for
the future,” says Hadeel.


In Iraq, the Unseen Refugees of the Syria Crisis

Francine-blog-headFrancine Uenuma, Director Media Relations and

Domiz, Iraq

June 2013

Children are everywhere in Domiz camp, a hot patch of land
near the Syrian border in northern Iraq where more than 40,000 people eke out
their existence in a space designed for only a quarter of that number. We saw
them before we even arrived, running alongside our car, selling gum, trying to
earn a little money.

This crowded camp, which is where many families have taken
refuge from the violence that has wreaked havoc on homes, livelihoods and lives
in Syria, is now where many families find themselves in limbo – unable to
return to Syria, trying to find odd jobs and pass the weeks and months. The
Kurdistan Regional Government manages the camp, which has schools and a small
medical clinic, but the number of refugees strains those resources and many
live in flimsy plastic tarps that blow over when a windstorm comes through.
There are mounds of garbage, and sewage runs down walkways in between the
makeshift dwellings.

Sebastian Meyer/Getty Images for Save the Children
It’s hard for me to imagine the shock those who dwell here
have experienced – leaving their homes, jobs, communities and schools – and
beginning a new life of uncertainty and daily hardship. That is reality for 1.5
million Syrians, a number that is hard to fathom when you speak to just one
family and hear what have been through. And what is most difficult to grasp is
that these families are – in a relative sense – the fortunate ones, with
millions more inside Syria subject to violence, food shortages and a medical
and educational infrastructure that has become unrecognizable in more than two
years of fighting.

On the day of our visit, Aras, a father of six children, is
out in the midday sun trying to rebuild the tent where he and his wife and 6
children live. Two of them are in the hospital, he says, so we meet Rebaz*, 5,
Govand, 4, Harem 3, and little Shalha, 1. Health problems – rashes, diarrhea –
are a problem here, and expected to worsen as the summer months grow more
unrelentingly hot. We go inside their tent, where the boys play amidst the pots
and pans and cans that make up a small makeshift kitchen in one corner.

The children who live in tents nearby are curious – as we take
photos we show them their images on our phones and camera. Several boys pose
repeatedly, smiling proudly at each new image of themselves, or with their
friends or siblings.

Aras tells us the tent they now call home was damaged in a strong
windstorm that completely wiped out nearby  families’ homes. His is still
standing, but many families have had to rely on the good graces of others as
they wait for a replacement tent, their dwellings reduced to a pile of plastic
by the strong winds.

Several people gather to talk to us, one man emphatically
says what he needs for his family – “no car, no money, just home — one home!”

Before leaving we walk through rows of tents of the newer
arrivals – those who came later to a camp built originally for only 10,000. We
meet two-month-old baby Banaz*, who was born one month
before her family fled the violence in Syria, completing the last leg of their
journey into Iraq on foot with what belongings they could carry. They don’t
know what the future holds for them – right now life is about the day to day,
trying to find work, cleaning and maintaining their small sliver of space, and
raising their small infant and two-year-old daughter in a world of painful


*Names have been changed for privacy


How You Can Help

Your gift to Save the Children’s Syria Children in Crisis Fund
will help provide immediate and on-going support to displaced Syrian children
and their family members in refugee camps throughout the region. Your funds
will help us provide comprehensive relief to these families that includes
shelter, health, child protection and educational needs.  Donate Here.

Day 3: King Abdullah Park Refugee Camp

Anoymous womanTorrey Taussig

Zarqa, Jordan

January 17, 2013

Childhood’s Simple Joys 

Today we visited the King Abdullah Park refugee camp in northern Jordan, outside of Ramtha. The weather is still cold, rainy and windy today, and it is hard to think that these conditions will only continue to worsen over the coming months. King Abdullah Park is a much smaller site than the Za’atari camp that we visited yesterday, and it is a more enclosed space that can only accommodate around 1,200 people. The site was previously meant to be a park for the nearby neighborhoods, but upon completion, the Syrian crisis elevated and the Jordanian government turned it into a space for a refugee camp.

P1081147Given the more manageable size, the conditions are slightly different from the larger Za’atari camp, which is in constant influx. Here, each family has a container with solid walls and floors, raised off the ground, which is crucial during the cold and rainy winter months.

There are around 450 children at the camp, and many of them are able to attend local Jordanian state-run schools in the nearby towns. Everyday, Save the Children helps to transport the children back and forth between the schools and the camp, separately busing girls and boys to their different schools. To maintain a sense of normalcy and reduce the tension that the upheaval has caused, the Syrian children go to school in separate sessions from the Jordanian children. The schools and teachers have graciously accommodated the new children, and have taken on more hours and longer shifts in order to handle the increased need for schooling.


While at the camp, we had the opportunity to visit another child friendly space run by Save the Children. Similar to yesterday, we were met by dozens of happy, bright-eyed children, who were eager to play, sing and dance. The space, albeit cold due to the weather, was brightly colored and filled with toys. Given the rain, the older children who are often able to play soccer and volleyball on the outside fields needed to be inside the space with the younger children. The teachers and Save the Children staff have the patience and attentiveness of saints, and were able to manage the large number of children with care, warmth and joy.


We also learned how selfless the staff is, as many of them have taken time off from their jobs elsewhere in Jordan to help aid in the refugee efforts. We met two men, one of whom is a physical education teacher nearby, and another who runs his own hair salon! They both now spend their days running around with a highly energetic group of children who are confined to the boundaries of their campsite and are in need of attention and activity. It is through acts of kindness such as these that you can truly see the generosity of the Jordanian people, who have accommodated so many people that have nowhere else to turn.


We stayed at the space for over an hour, having been immediately accepted by the engaging and friendly children and staff. We were able to partake in a number of different activities that the children were doing, including drawing beautiful pictures of Syrian flags, flowers, smiling faces, and hearts.  They were also performing puppet shows that they had created themselves, playing ping-pong, badminton and legos. There were also dozens of toys for the children to play with, and it was clear that the space provides a respite from the more tedious camp life that awaits them outside.


At the end of the morning session at the child friendly space, the children headed out to the school buses that were waiting to take them to the local schools. We followed them to Ramtha, where we visited a first-grade girls’ classroom. The teacher was conducting a math lesson, and the eight girls (smaller class size than average due to the weather) enthusiastically took turns coming up to the chalkboard to practice arithmetic, happily cheering when they arrived at the right answers. Despite the hardships they have been through, their excitement and energy is contagious. They left us with a renewed belief that children everywhere deserve the chance to have a childhood, regardless of their circumstances.


Their lives are by no means easy, and their living conditions make their days even harder. All sense of normalcy they once had is gone, and even after months of living in the camps away from their homes and the lives they once knew, they face continuous adjustment. In a world where humans can do so much harm and cause so much destruction, the work that the Jordanian government and its people, Save the Children, UNICEF, UNHCR and other organizations are doing on the ground shows the best of humanity; and at the end of the day, that is all that we have.

Day 2: Za’atari Refugee Camp

Anoymous womanTorrey Taussig

Zarqa, Jordan

January 10, 2013

Strength, Kindness and Patience in Humanity  

Outside of Al Mufraq, about 12 KM (8 miles) from the Syrian border, lies Za’atari Refugee Camp. Approaching the camp is somewhat like approaching the end of the earth, and flat, desolate land stretches out in all directions. There is very little vegetation or life in the area, and with today’s rain, wind and cold temperatures, the setting was even bleaker.

On a numbers basis, the Za’atari refugee camp is nothing short of a miracle, especially when one considers the sheer number of people flooding into the once barren dessert site. The camp currently has around 60,000 people living there, and is receiving between 1,000 to 1,400 people a night. Nearly 1,800 people crossed the border and entered into the camp on a single night this past week. The numbers are unfathomable, and difficult for the mind to grasp, and even more so when one takes into consideration the amount of food, shelter and health services being provided to all of the refugees on a daily basis.

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Save the Children has about 120 staff there (it was the first organization to respond at Za’atari) and is working with other organizations such as UNICEF, UNHCR, WFP and others to provide the best care that they can, although the conditions get more and more difficult by the day. Everyone who comes to the camp is now staying for the foreseeable future. Before, around 150 people used to leave a day- some going back to Syria, others being taken in by Jordanian host communities or families. Now very few, if any, return to Syria.

Driving down the long straightaway to the front of the camp, you can only see flat land sectioned off by barbed wire fence, giving a sense of going into a closed off zone. At the entrance to the camp, the security presence is heavy.

Upon entering, we could see the entrepreneurial spirit of the people right away. Some tents around the entrance are being used as shops and small markets, sporadically set up by the Syrians as a way of obtaining different commodities and earning a small amount of money.

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We first went to the food distribution areas, where there are huge tents set up for daily bread distribution and bi-weekly distribution of food kits. Depending on the number of members in a family, each family is given a number and told when it is their turn to pick up their food boxes, which include salt, oil, lentils, rice and bulgur wheat, enough to last for about two weeks.

The distribution tents are divided in two, one half for the men and the other for the women. The woman side tended to be more orderly and quiet, slightly less raucous than the male distribution side. Regardless, everybody waited patiently for their food kits to be distributed to them, and smiled as we walked by. The food distribution sites are kept orderly by gates and single points of entrances and exits.

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Next we went to the school, which was constructed with great efficiency and care by the Bahrain government. The school is a more permanent structure than the dense population of tents growing outside of its walls, and each room has a space heater; a rare commodity that is unseen among the tents where the Syrians are living.

There, we met with Save the Children staff and a psychologist, who is working with some of the children, mostly on issues pertaining to violence that they have seen. The school is composed of children ages six to eighteen.  It can hold around 2,000 children at a time and the classes are taught by Jordanian teachers and Syrian teaching assistants who are refugees in the camps themselves. They teach the Jordanian curriculum, and we learned that the children had their end of semester exams approaching! Despite the added stress that may come along with the exams, the structure provides activity, continuity and a small amount of normalcy for the children whose lives have been uprooted since they left their homes many months, and sometimes over a year ago.

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Inside the classrooms, there are wooden desks and chalkboards. There are many pictures and writings on all of the desks, including pictures of the Syrian flags, and hearts. On others, the students have written poetry, writings of peace and in once instance, a short paragraph saying: Do not be afraid to write, my pen. Life is a memory. Freedom and pain are forever.

Writing, and art, can be a form of healing and expression at a time when there are no other ways to voice their fears, hopes and dreams for the future.

Save the Children recently put together a small book of children’s pictures, where the Syrian children sketched their hopes, dreams and aspirations for the coming year. Many drew pictures of flowers, Syrian flags, clothing and included inscriptions such as, I wish…

To go back to Syria

To go home

A doll and toys

Warm clothing

To see my brother back in Syria

To be back in my room

To be happy, joyful,

That my life will be full of roses

These are simple dreams, simple aspirations that many of us would take for granted. For all of the children in the Za’atari refugee camp, their homes are now tents in a cold and wintry desert. Unlikely to happen upon a rose anytime soon, they will, like all children, just continue to dream.

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We next went to Save the Children’s kindergarten area where a teacher-training session was taking place. Despite the grey skies and barren tents, the muddy paths and the large puddles of water developing on the main roads, the atmosphere was immediately filled with color, light and joy as soon as pulled open the entrance to the early childhood center tents. The space is covered with a bright red carpet depicting cartoon characters, and the every corner of the tent is filled with toys and red, yellow and blue chairs. At a small table on the side of the room, a teacher training was going on with both Jordanian and Syrian “animators” (a term used by Save the Children to describe the volunteers working with children in the early childhood centers.) The young women, many of whom are refugees themselves, greeted us with smiles, waving and singing, and seemed particularly joyful that morning. We all participated in a training activity using brightly colored balloons, meant to be an icebreaker game for the children.


Save the Children is also caring for unaccompanied minors, children who came without families and are alone for a number of reasons. Some include that their mothers did not want to leave their homes in Syria, that they stayed behind to take care of a newborn or very young child, or because their mothers did not want their sons recruited and sent them to the borders for their own safety.

Before leaving, we visited the spaces where the unaccompanied minors are staying who have not yet been assigned to a tent. We spoke to one fourteen-year old boy, who was waiting in the trailer lined with cots, blankets, and a few other boys around his age. His hand was swollen from an injury that he incurred from mortar shelling, and he came to the camps for treatment and physical therapy. He told Save the Children that when he is better, he will return to Syria where the rest of his family has stayed behind. For him, there does not seem to be a doubt in his mind that he will return as soon as he is better.

We then left the camp to head back to Amman for the night. The rain was not letting up, and the increasingly worsening weather only stood to prove how much the refugees are in need of supplies and clothing to help keep them warm. Yet at the end of the day, even among such dire circumstances, hope was ever present and the human spirit indomitable.

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