May 30, 2012
It’s only about an hour from Amman to Ramtha, near the Syrian border, but once we arrive it feels like a world away. Save the Children is supporting a thousand Syrian refugee and Jordanian children every week in their child friendly space (CFS) here and giving mothers a place they can come to and share their experiences with other mothers who have fled the violence in Syria. And yet there’s still not enough space for everyone who wants to come and there’s a waiting list for when an additional CFS opens in a couple weeks.
Apart from being a bit crowded, it looks like most other CFS’s I’ve visited in other parts of the world – kids playing games and drawing with volunteers and a few staff supervising. I start playing catch with a six year old girl who’s sitting apart from the others, playing on her own. After a few tries she’s got the hang of it and is catching the ball, a beautiful smile lighting up her face.
My Save the Children colleague tells me that this little girl was so distressed by what she saw that she has not spoken a word since she left Syria, three months ago.
I’m glad that I could make her smile, even if it was only for a few minutes.
I later learn that she and her four sisters and baby brother fled with their widowed mom after their home was attacked. Without a husband to earn an income, the family is especially vulnerable and is struggling to pay the high rents charged here and still put food on the table. I wonder what will happen when these families’ savings run out and they can’t afford the rent. The government and local communities have been really supportive of all those coming across the border but with more people coming, scarce resources will be even more stretched and the communities may not be able to cope.
The mothers are in a separate room talking, kids running in and out. When I and my Save the Children colleague enter they are all eager to tell us about their lives and every woman in the room has her own gripping story. Some walked for hours with their children to reach the border and many talk about their homes being destroyed. They all worry about their kids and the lasting effects on them of witnessing the violence. We hear about kids who run and hide when they hear loud noises and others who’ve regressed and lost their toilet training skills – all serious signs of distress. Although they may not have much to go back to, all the moms hold out hope of returning – “Inshallah before Ramadan, Inshallah the violence will stop, Inshallah this will all be over soon.”
After we’ve talked for a while about what these moms and their children need one woman looks at us intently. “As hard as it is for us here, it’s worse for the ones inside (Syria). You should help them, not us.”
Her words came back to me vividly when I learned of the killing of 32 children in Syria on Friday. Children just like the ones I met in that child friendly space in Ramtha. It’s shocking and horrifying that this could happen to children. Humanitarian agencies like Save the Children urgently need access so that we can help those families who need it most. As I leave the child friendly space in Ramtha and head back to Amman and my normal life, I resolve to bring these kid’s voices and stories back with me and not forget what I’ve seen.