For World Refugee Day today, we're highlighting our Child-Friendly Spaces, which are helping Syrian refugee children play and smile again after the trauma they've been through.
Read about a small building tucked into a back street in downtown Irbid, Jordan, where World Vision is helping to bridge the gap between Syrian refugee children and vulnerable kids in Jordan.
It’s a sunny Monday morning in the northern Jordanian city of Irbid, located just 15 kilometers from the Syrian border. At a community center in the downtown core, a group of children are drawing maps that feature scenes of their neighborhood, while in another room, younger children delight in playing with toys and putting magnetic letters up onto a small blackboard under the watchful eye of a social worker.
This could be a typical scene at a day care center in almost any part of the world. But here in Jordan, where the conflict in Syria has brought more than 600,000 refugees into the country, the youngsters taking part in these activities represent an effort by World Vision to help bring together children from two very different realities. At this Child-friendly Space (CFS), Syrian refugee children play, laugh, and learn together with Jordanian kids from the local community.
World Vision and a local partner operate the program. This Child-Friendly Space operates six days per week and serves approximately 200 children from both sides of the border. About 70 percent of the children taking part are Syrian refugees, while the remaining 30 percent are Jordanian.
The Society’s executive director, Fadi Dawagreh, says that the joint program has been operating since March and there have been few problems in mixing the two groups of children. He points out that some of the younger Syrian refugees have been in Jordan for up to three years already, and have only limited memories of their homeland.
The situation for older refugee children can be more difficult, and Dawagreh says that many of these kids prefer to come to the CFS rather than go to local schools, because here they don’t feel intimidated by their lack of knowledge of the Jordanian curriculum. For those who are facing more serious psychological problems, the Society’s staff has received training to identify symptoms of potential illness and to refer the children to appropriate agencies for help.
Looking at the children laughing and playing together, it’s virtually impossible to tell the Syrian and Jordanian children apart. Dawagreh says that his group has worked hard to include vulnerable Jordanian children as well as their Syrian counterparts to help ease tensions in the local community. As the number of Syrian refugees in Jordan has risen dramatically since 2011, pressures have been building in host communities as competition for housing, medical care, and school space continue to grow.
While the children at the CFS benefit from the attention they receive and their interaction with other kids, their parents are also among the beneficiaries of the project. Not only does the CFS give their children a safe environment to play and learn, but also provides some much needed distraction during days that can, at times, seem to drag on forever.
As one staff member told me, “parents need breaks from their children, especially when we’ve seen families of five or six people living in the same two rooms for months and years with little hope for the future.” Giving parents even a brief respite from the demands of their children helps families endure the separation from their loved ones and friends back in Syria.
As for the future, the current group of children will be able to take advantage of the facilities and services of the CFS in Irbid until late July, when a new group of 200 Jordanian and Syrian children will take their places. This helps maximize the number of vulnerable children who receive support, and it’s hoped that more Jordanian and Syrian children can be brought into similar programs at World Vision Child-Friendly Spaces in other host communities in Jordan.
Join our #WorldVisionChat on Twitter today at 11am PST (2pm Eastern) with our expert Sevil Omer and blogger Matthew Paul Turner about the refugee children of Syria.
Donate to our Syrian refugee crisis fund to help Syrian children return to school and find safe places to be children again.
Join us in prayer for the people of Syria, especially the children. See our prayer points here.