Tidbits of Arabic News translated into English

Sunday, March 15, 2015

A camp for Syrian Refugees 30 minutes from Amman

Back in June or July, 2014, I went along for a children's activity day at a camp for Syrian refugees about 30 minutes from Amman. It is 300 families, and they actually are all living in tents. I've never seen such a thing.

The people at the camp have two tents erected for schools. It's their own schools, and they're being run thus far outside of the reach of the Jordanian Ministry of Education. I've never appreciated the role of some sort of organized school board till I was hearing about these schools. No books, no curriculum, no ideas about what a child of a certain age ought to know. Apparently the camp paid two "teachers" 200 dinars a month to teach, but what I heard is that those two teachers took the money and ran. They were the Arabic-speaking local teachers who were supposed to teach all the essential subjects. Then there's an American called Olive. She's 55, worked 30 years as a United Nations translation, and speaks like 6 languages! Among them Arabic. She quit her job in the spring, took an early pension, and went to the camp to see if they needed an English teacher. So she's been teaching since mid-May, and the kids love her; but she's leaving at the end of June, though with plans to return in September. There's no communication between Olive and the two teachers who vanished; there's just Olive; a volunteer student who's here during her summer break from Georgetown University; and a Moroccan-American lady here for three weeks, trying to put together lesson plans and a curriculum with the aid of 20 donated physics books here, 20 donate geography books, and the schoolbooks of somebody's 13-year-old brother, and it's all just so ridiculous.

Jordan allows Syrian refugee children to attend Jordanian schools, officially. But it's a huge strain cause there's so many. In the official camps, like Zaatari, I think there's proper schools being run by UNICEF. But this camp I don't think is so official. It sounds like 300 families just showed up and erected their tents on a flat plain in front of a factory. And they've only been here 5 months, so they're probably still find their way around. Maybe for the moment they just fall through the cracks. Although they do have a water supply something-or-other donated by Oxfam and Belgium's government.

For the children's activity day, we did puppet shows and artwork. My job was to hand out crayons. It was hard because the crayons were also needed for a second group of kids, so we had to conserve them. I felt a little miserly handing crayons out one at a time, and asking that each kid must return a crayon to get a new one. Especially when they've had to flee their homes, etc, and now even their crayons have to rationed, all of which were old and broken anyways (though they still worked). But luckily, no kid seemed offended. The only kid who had a hard time with the proceedings was a little boy called Hammouda. He had a hearing aid on, but the kids said he couldn't hear at all, in which case I don't know what the hearing aid was for. Any case, Hammouda didn't want to color, but he danced around in front of me the whole time, trying to push his little hands into the crayon bag, grab the best ones, and stuff them into the pockets of his grubby jeans. All this while giving the most earnest, pleading looks on his face which I wasn't sure how to interpret. We finally made him happy by holding him in my lap while all the girls sitting around clapped for him. He liked that.

Then they started singing a song about "Daddy, please come home safely, my tears are running down my cheeks for you" at which point a little girl called Hala in a pretty pink dress crossed her arms and said, "I don't like my dad." I cautiously asked her why later. She said she had two sisters, five brothers, and her dad had gone and married a second wife! So she doesn't like him now. She was a bold personality. When they led the tent-full of kids in singing, Hala would be off in a corner, singing a completely different song with her friend in a loud voice. Then she turned to me at one point and asked, "did you all bring us presents? Jump ropes! Please can we have jump ropes?" Another girl suggested we bring a few jump ropes that everyone could take a turn with, but Hala said, "no, a jump rope for each girl, please!" Well, I kind of want to buy a bunch of jump ropes now.

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