February 13, 2014

Neighbors of Za’atari Part Three: Ra’ouf

Children under the age of 18 make up over 50% of the 95,000 current residents in Za’atari refugee camp. This statistic is very apparent; kids are everywhere in Za’atari. They freely roam in small packs doing what all young kids do when they get together. Only 20,000 of the children in Za’atari are enrolled in school and only about 11,000 consistently attend classes. While the roaming children are usually friendly and curious about our presence, we have noticed that some have the tendency to quickly become violent towards each other and we have witnessed arguments and scuffles. Are they just being kids or are we seeing some of the deeper trauma breaking the surface?

Zach is drawing in his notebook and Ra’ouf, the 10-year-old son of the street leader of our neighborhood, is watching him closely. Ra’ouf has taught us to make the tea that we serve, helps tidy our tent and enjoys hanging around us, sometimes for hours. He is a bright and cheerful kid who misses his computer games back in Syria.

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Zach hands Ra’ouf the notebook and motions for him to draw something. As Ra’ouf intently sets to work, we are shocked by what he draws – an image of an old man sitting in a tent in Za’atari crying. When we ask Ra’ouf why the old man is crying, he replies, “because he is lonely and has lost all of his children and his wife.” When we ask if this is a picture of someone he knows, he simply says that “everyone here has lost someone.” He won’t explain more and quickly turns the page to begin again.

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This time Ra’ouf draws a bright and colorful picture of a wedding. Zach asks where he learned to draw so well. Was it in school? We find out that Ra’ouf’s school in Syria was destroyed before he left the country, which left him very apprehensive of attending classes. He tried it in Za’atari, going to one day of school when he first arrived, before deciding that he didn’t feel comfortable there. Because his parents anticipated that they would be returning to Syria in only a couple of months, they didn’t force him to attend. Now Ra’ouf’s family has been in Za’atari for over a year, and he still is not attending school.

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We find out, however, that Ra’ouf does regularly go to what he calls “the nursery,”his name for one of Save the Children’s “Child-Friendly Spaces”. Here Ra’ouf can play soccer, draw, and do a number of other activities with other kids ages 5 to 17. There are two of these spaces in District 5 alone so it isn’t as crowded as the schools and Ra’ouf says it is a fun place to go.

This unexpected drawing session has raised a number of questions for us. Why don’t more children attend school? How do kids deal with the traumatic events that they have witnessed? How will this experience affect their future?

It seems to us that these Child-Friendly Spaces could be an effective gateway to school attendance for children who have experienced severe trauma. Perhaps getting children socializing and participating in group activities is the first step to re-introducing them to learning and school. Ra’ouf has invited us to come with him to the Child-Friendly Space and we’ll be sure to ask the instructors who work there. Hopefully this visit will shed more light on our questions.

Until February 17th, all donations (up to $1,000) will be matched by our generous co-producers at 1001 MEDIA.