Al Zaatari Syrian Refugee Camp
I met these girls as they came out of their classes on my first time at the camp, back in April of 2013. The camp has grown extraordinarily since this first visit, and as I toured the camp that day I saw brand new white caravans lined up in rows that are now covered in lines of clothes hanging to dry and other lean-to structures to expand a family's living space.
School in the camp is a privilige. With over half the refugees being children, the issue of getting them all an education is a big one. One report said 1 in 10 children are currently able to go to school there. These photos are taken at a time of good wheather, but I have been in the camp on many other days when nearly all the roads are completely flooded, wide lanes of thick mud that sucks your steps right into the ground. Most of the children run around in plastic flip flops, or shoes handed down to them that are not their size. Even if they do have the proper foot attire, the camp is huge. They can have to walk half a mile or more to get to their class, a great challenge on the hards days of rain or snow in winter.
The kids that do get to school are very happy to do so. It gives them a sense of purpose and normalcy in this situation that is otherwise nothing near normal. I talked with these girls as they were coming out of their classes, and they tried out all the English that they had on me. It was my third day in the Middle East ever, and I spoke absolutely no Arabic, other than "shukran" which is "thank you." Still, I spent about half an hour with these girls in which time they ascertained that I was from California, which they found very exciting. This usually comes with some mention of a movie stars name, who I invariably don't know. But they asked me to take their photograph and were really excited to have their likeness captured.
It was my first day with refugees from Syria, and I was stricken by something that I have since become accustomed to. They were doing their best to carry on despite the terrible situation they had found themselves in. They clutched at each other and giggled and whispered like all other young teens. They wanted to hang out with the American chick, they wanted their photo taken, they stuck around until they were dragged back into their lessons. They all hugged me when they left. I had been shy and nervouse coming into Zaatari because I didn't know how the people there would react to me. If my nationality and appearance would offend them. These girls made me feel so welcome and their curiosity about me gave me courage to carry on with my project with the decision to assume that others would accept me as well.