“I was very sad to leave my country, but we came here looking for safety,” 11-year-old Layla says. “We thought going away was only for three months. We didn’t take anything, as the journey was long and dangerous, and now we are not able to go back.”
Layla is one of the 300 children and youth currently taking part in ACT Alliance member Lutheran World Federation’s (LWF) psychosocial support program in the Za’atari refugee camp, Jordan. In its psychosocial support center, the “Peace Oasis”, LWF works with children and youth between the ages of seven and 18 years. The course includes additional programs that teach refugees to cope with life in a refugee camp aimed at parents and the elderly.
“Many children were subjected to violence in Syria, and now have a very difficult life in the camp,” Rachel Luce, LWF Country Director in Jordan, says. “We work with them on communication skills, stress management, conflict resolution and peace. The main objective is to give them means to cope with their situation in the camp.”
Post-traumatic stress and nightmares
The Za’atari refugee camp was established in 2012. One of the largest refugee camps in the world, it is home to about 80,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war in their home country. As the conflict in going into its sixth year, the refugees waiting in the desert have reached their limits.
“The children have trouble sleeping, anxiety and eating disorders. Many of them show symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. We see depressed children, feelings of isolation and in others, aggression,” Maria de la Guardia, LWF communications consultant says. The story of Layla and her family is but one of many similar that the LWF staff in the camp encounter every day.
In the early days of the Syrian civil war, Layla lost her father. He worked for the military and did not return from work one day. To this day, the family does not know what happened to him. “Some people told me he had died, some say he was in prison,” her mother Maryam says. She suddenly had to care for 11 children all by herself.
“It was not easy for the children to lose their father. He was a good man whom they loved and respected,” she says. “For two years, one of my daughters was in shock and did not talk to anyone. She would cry all the time, asking where he was. Everyone was nervous, everyone was anxious. The children were angry, fighting among themselves.”
A new life with old baggage
Despite the conflict, the family stayed in Syria after the father’s disappearance, hoping he would come back. As the situation became worse, they moved around, trying to avoid the fighting. “I tried to find a safe place, but it was difficult,” Maryam recalls. “Many bombs, many rockets. I saw five men die right in front of me.” Eventually the family decided to leave. It was a difficult and long journey as Maryam did not want to risk the usual smuggler routes with her teenage daughters. “I was looking for safety,” she says.
The family found a new home in Za’atari camp, but for the children, their home in Syria and the Syrian civil war are still part of everyday life. They keep in contact with their friends who remained in Syria through social media. “When I see their pictures, I feel bad, and when I talk to them I want to go back” 11-year old Layla says. “They all live in bad conditions, but I should be there. My friends tell me of shootings and bombings. I feel guilty and I wonder why I am here and they must endure all of that.”
Hope for the future
Layla and her siblings are taking part in the LWF program now. She herself already finds that she feels better after attending a few sessions. “Many things make me angry all the time,” she says. “It is easy to become upset, to scream and shout. I hope the course helps me to learn how to manage my anger.”
Sometimes she tries to imagine the life of other children, who are lucky to live in peace. “Those children live in good conditions, but before the crisis, we did too,” she says. “Our life was happy. We were no different.”
The LWF Peace Oasis is funded by CLWR – Canadian Lutheran World Relief and Manitoba Council for International Cooperation (MCIC), and members of the ACT Alliance.
Since the beginning of the conflicts, the LWF has assisted refugees from the Syrian war and the Iraqi crisis accommodated in host communities and in camps. The “Peace Oasis” in the 5th district of the Zaatari camp has been a flagship for our camp community-based psycho-social intervention, targeting specifically youth aged 14 to 24. A broad range of activities intended to increase resilience and promote stability have been targeted at the refugee population living outside of camps (currently around 82 percent of the total refugee population).
Up to date, LWF has provided assistance to approximately 200,000 refugees and affected persons.
In the period 2015 – 2017, LWF plans to continue providing protection, shelter, education, basic relief goods, water and sanitation within Zaatari camp and in host communities. In addition LWF has initiated a Cash Assistance project targeting 454 households, and two 4-year education projects in January 2016 to rehabilitate schools in Irbid and Amman Governorate to improve the physical and psychosocial environment for girls and boys attending the selected public schools. The main challenge is rthe protracted nature of the Syrian crisis and the need to identify medium- to long-term sustainable solutions for Syrian refugees and host communities in Jordan.
With contributions by Maria de la Guardia, LWF Jordan. All names in the story have been changed.