Today, World Vision writer Sevil Omer captures their experience speaking with families living in the Za'atari Refugee Camp.
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Just a year ago, Mohammed Mansor was living a middle-class dream: He had a great job, a beautiful home, and more than enough money to pay the bills and take vacations.
"We had everything," Mohammed said.
Mohammed's wife, Hanah, stayed in their two-story home in Syria and took care of the kids – four daughters and three sons. "Helping my children with homework was the most difficult part of my day," Hanah said with a gentle laugh. "I would try and help them as much as I could, but they knew more."
Mohammed and Hanah spoke to World Vision U.S. President Rich Stearns at their home in the Za'atari Refugee Camp, a collection of tents and trailers, called caravans, that has become the second largest camp in the world and the fourth-largest population center in Jordan.
"We don't want to be here."
They say they never imagined their lives would be shattered so quickly in the summer of 2012, fearing for their lives as they fled the besieged nation, running away with only the clothes on their backs as they headed to the Jordanian border.
Their eldest daughter, 11-year-old Rama, described how she and her siblings stumbled in the dark, "hiking up and down mountains," as they made their way on foot to Za’atari, a journey so harrowing Rama described herself being "so scared I didn’t talk."
Mohammed shared with Rich: "I will forget everything if I could just go back to my house with my family."
More than 2 million Syrians, half of them children, have poured into neighboring countries as refugees, creating what the United Nations called "a disgraceful humanitarian calamity."
Syria's nearly three-year civil war has claimed at least 100,000 lives, including 7,000 children, according to the United Nations. Five million people have been displaced within Syria, and thousands more are leaving Syria every day and heading to Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, and Jordan.
Like Mohammed's family, middle-class families from Syria have fled to Jordan with little or no savings. Thousands more are stuck in makeshift camps along the border.
Resources are scarce and water is even scarcer. Business owners and refugees alike are plummeting into debt. An increasing number of children are turning to the camp streets to find work, whatever it takes to help feed their families.
The Jordanian government is coping with the crisis as best as it can. Everyone and everything caught up in the Syrian refugee crisis is stretched thin – there is never enough.
Za’atari refugee camp is divided into 12 districts, each managed by an appointed community leader or "mukhtar." Mohammed's family was among the first to settle in Za’atari. They live in District One in an aluminum shed away from the busiest part of the camp, its marketplace.
There are grocery stores, shoe shops, hair salons, and even a wedding dress vendor. Restaurants, candy parlors, and a pool hall are full of refugees. Mohammed started his own business here, too. He and a friend pooled together their last dinar and bought a TV. They sold it and, with the profit, bought another, then another.
Last month, Mohammed invited Rich into his home. In the refugee world at Za’atari, Mohammed’s home is among the "haves" in this "have-not" existence. The family’s two mobile units resemble storage units.
For Mohammed's family, it is where they eat, pray, and sleep. It is meticulous and lined with cots distributed to each refugee family. It is a place where Hanah, who used to have appliances like a washing machine, now scrubs tarps and their few items of clothing with cups of water. There is electricity, and primarily they use it to watch TV, a lifeline to events back home.
It’s also where the children are safe and can study.
"I'm afraid for my children," Mohammed told Rich. He created an itinerary for the children with their expected times of departure and arrival from school. "I will make and keep a schedule, to track them coming and going to school. It is a dangerous place. You never know."
The maze of tents and caravans covers an enormous expanse of sand and rock. Dust devils swirl in the distance. Chain-link fence topped with razor wire protects the mobile units belonging to international aid agencies and distribution sites.
But refugees can come and go.
Rama said there are too many children scrambling up and down the dirty and dusty alleys of Za'atari.
"They should be in school," Rama told Rich. "I want to ask the parents and the children why they are not in school. School is for their future."
Rama hopes to become a doctor one day, “because I want to help the children who are hurting and in pain.”
Before Rich’s departure from Za’atari, the fathers exchanged words of hope and trepidation of Mohammed's return to his country and the future of his homeland.
Mohammed told Rich: “I lived with all faiths — Christians, Muslims, and Jews. My neighbors are Christians. We cared for each other. They are caring for my house and business while I am here. I would do the same for them, because we all want to be free."
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World Vision is increasing its presence in Za’atari, where Mohammed’s children have benefited from a recent diaper distribution led by the organization. World Vision was able to distribute diapers to at least 17,000 babies in Za’atari, where most mothers have no income.
World Vision has secured $1 million in funding to rehabilitate the older, unpaved parts of the camp, including digging drainage to improve sanitation in case of heavy rainfall. “Standing water, especially when it mixes with drainage and sewage water, leaves people at risk of waterborne diseases,” said Sabrina Pourman, programs director at World Vision. The organization hopes to begin the work in the next few weeks.
Arabic-English translation and additional reporting by World Vision Jordan’s Mohammad Bataineh.
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