"The Zaatari Refugee Camp is twelve kilometers from the Syrian border, and has become the fourth largest city in Jordan. At its peak last year, over 3,000 Syrians refugees were entering the camp every day. This was a biblical level of population movement. Over 400,000 people have lived in the camp at some point in the last two years. UNHCR has responded to their basic needs: sanitation, food, healthcare. But there’s a large gap between survival and livelihood. For lack of a better word, boredom has become a big problem. It’s too dangerous to return to Syria, and there are very limited ways to be productive inside the camp. But the adaptations have been amazing. This is unlike any other refugee camp in the world. The Syrians are coming from a middle class economy, so they are a very skilled population— they aren’t subsistence farmers. They’ve managed to build an economy inside the camp. Most of the tents have been upgraded to houses. The refugees trade with the Jordanians, and bring in supplies from the outside to start their own shops. One man even started a supermarket. It’s still a tough situation. But arriving with nothing, the Syrian refugees have managed to carve out their own dignity inside the camp. They aren’t just taking what is given to them. They’ve created choices for themselves.”
-Gavin White, UNHCR Jordan External Relations Officer
"Do you want to hear a funny story from when he was a baby? We were a little worried about him, because the neighbor’s children were the same age, and they were already walking. So we tried to encourage him by buying some tiny shoes and putting them on his feet. He didn’t walk, but he did say his first words: ‘Take them off!’"
"A few years ago, I got a call on my cell phone from a twelve year old child from my village. He was calling me from a bus stop. He’d taken a bus into the city alone, and he was calling me to ask if I could help him find a way to go to school. Both of his parents had died of AIDS, and he had no money for tuition. I told him to stay where he was, and left work immediately to pick him up. At first I was very mad at him. He should not have travelled alone. But then I looked at him and I saw myself. I’d also been desperate to go to school after my father was killed, but we had no money. So even though I was suffering myself, I told him I would try to help him. My salary was not enough, so I tried many things to get the money. After work, I went to the landfill to hunt for recyclables. But after I paid to have them cleaned, there was no money left. Now I’m trying to make bricks. I have a small operation in the village to make bricks, and I sell them in the city. It doesn’t make much money, but it’s enough to pay tuition for the boy and three of his siblings.”
"Do you remember the happiest moment of your life?"
"One day, I was sent home from my final exams because my mother had not been able to pay the registration fees. On the way home, a man came up to me and asked what was wrong. ‘Nothing,’ I told him. He asked me again. So I told him that I’d been sent home from school. He then gave me the money I needed to take my exams. I’d never seen him before, and I’ve never seen him again."
I visited the Confident Children out of Conflict (CCC) Center in Juba, a place where displaced children in South Sudan are given shelter, an education, affection, and a second chance. I was greeted by Cathy, the center’s director. She was very kind, but also a bit nervous about my presence. She’d been briefed about my interview process. “We can talk about happy moments,” she said. “But let’s not ask these children about their saddest moments, or times they felt afraid. Many of them were malnourished, abandoned, or regularly sexually abused. Some of them have witnessed extreme violence. When journalists ask them to relive these memories, it can set them back for an entire month. They begin to act out. Often their trauma is so bad, that when the children first arrive, they can be very hateful toward me. But I feel blessed by the hate. Because I know it’s part of the healing process. And if they need someone to hate so that they can heal, I’m glad it can be me.”
A few minutes after this conversation, a young girl walked up to Cathy, gave her a hug, and ran away. Cathy seemed quite moved. “That girl was very badly abused,” she said. “She’s been here for months. And that’s the first time she’s ever hugged me.”
(Juba, South Sudan)
I found her crushing up rocks and loading them onto the back of a truck, for which she got paid just a few dollars a day. But she also told me she was enrolled in school, and had high ambitions. “Maybe I’ll be President,” she said, laughing.
"What would you do if you were?" I asked.
"I’d take all the children off the street, bring them somewhere, and teach them," she said. Afterwards, she wrote down her name and email, so I could send her the picture.
Her name was ‘Innocent Gift.’
(Juba, South Sudan)
"I’m afraid of everything. I’ve been reading psychology books to try to figure out why. Logically, I know everything is fine. I know that I’m only twenty, and I have so many blessings and advantages. Yet I’m afraid I haven’t accomplished enough yet. I’m afraid of the future. Afraid of getting older. Afraid of being alone. Afraid of having a child. And afraid of the dark. I’m really, really afraid of the dark."
"When I was fifteen, I was raped by three boys while competing at a gymnastics tournament. I was so ashamed, that I stood on a train track, and waited for the train to come. At the last moment, I tried to jump away. I woke up after a month. It was the middle of the night, and I could immediately tell that something was missing. I started feeling all over my body, and that’s when I realized that I’d lost my arm. Now I counsel teenagers who have been diagnosed with HIV. I’m normally the first to meet with them after they get their results. I try to explain to them that there’s a way out of even the most impossible situations."
"Let me tell you about my son. When Aditya was born, there was a very popular television show on the air, and the main character was named Lord Rama. Lord Rama was known as a revealer of truth. So I joked with my best friend that my son was going to be just like Lord Rama, and he was going to bring a great truth into the world. Sixteen years later, that very same friend called me while I was out of town on vacation.
'Uptal!' he screamed. 'Uptal! Turn on the TV! Your son is on the TV! He's just like Lord Rama!'
'What channel?' I asked.
'Any channel!' he screamed. So I turned on the television. And there he was. I hadn't known it, but while I was gone, he had started a petition on the internet. He was only sixteen years old at the time, and he had started an online petition calling for the government to reopen an old rape case. The case was nearly ten years old, and it involved the son of a very powerful government official. The son had raped and murdered a girl, and even though the evidence was overwhelming, he was only given three years in prison because of his family's connections. So Aditya started this petition to reopen the case. And soon it had millions of signatures! A sixteen year old boy! I couldn't believe it! I called his mother, and she was very scared. The men he was challenging were very powerful, and had many powerful friends.
Soon Aditya was on the cover of every newspaper: ‘Young Boy Challenges Mafia,” the newspapers said. TV cameras were lining up in front of our house. His mother and I were very scared for him, and wanted him to lay low, but he insisted on doing every interview. He went on all the TV shows. Soon he started a protest right here at India Gate. He announced: ‘I am going to sit here until the case is reopened.’ Thousands of people joined him. All the famous musicians and Bollywood stars came to join him. The largest magazine in India called him ‘the country’s youngest icon.’ Soon after the protest began, the chief judge of the Supreme Court announced he was reopening the case. When the new trial was finished, the man had been given a life sentence!”
(New Delhi, India)
"I think the great fear of every Tibetan is that our story will die out. It’s been over fifty years now since Tibet lost its independence. Our monasteries have been destroyed. The Chinese language curriculum is being mandated in our schools. More and more Han Chinese are moving into Tibet— building homes, building malls. I think now we are all starting to think that the Chinese are too powerful and that the dream of returning home is fading away. I think our mistake was that we didn’t keep up with the world. We held on to the monastic tradition too tightly. We didn’t embrace modern education, and so we weren’t connected with the outside world. Because of that, we lost our freedom silently. I think our challenge now is to educate our children in a modern way, so hopefully they will be better at sharing our story."
The Silvereye - Zosterops lateralis, is a small bird with a conspicuous ring of white feathers around the eye, and belong to a group of birds known as white-eyes. This species is common in the south-east of Australia, and may occur in almost any wooded habitat, especially commercial orchids and urban parks and gardens.
Photo by Cannon Digital Photography.