Voices of youth from Azraq refugee camp, Jordan
Photos by Justin Bastien & Mary Kate MacIsaac
Reported by Mary Kate MacIsaac
Bahaa, 22, from Damascus, Syria
My favorite memories from before the war were the evenings when I just stayed at home and watched movies. I loved National Geographic documentaries. In Syria, I was independent and free within my home. I could make my own choices. But here, in the camp, I don’t have that freedom.
Having to flee the war, coming here – all of this – the situation changes your dreams.
Even in Syria my hopes and dreams were limited. When I was young I wanted a better life than what we were living. I lived in a rural area in south Damascus, with only a few random houses, limited services, and other youth who were getting themselves into trouble. I didn’t want to be like them – I dreamed of being a better person, I dreamed of improving my life.
The greatest challenge I have faced was the abrupt break in my studies. My love of learning is just who I am. It’s part of my personality. But because of the war, I couldn’t finish my studies. In Jordan, I had to work to survive. Besides, there was no grade 12 class available for us at that time. Now the Jordanian Ministry of Education and UNHCR will begin offering Tawjihi (grade 12 diploma exams) for Syrians in the camp. I’ll apply for this, for sure.
Because of our circumstances today, my future isn’t clear, but I’m prepared for any opportunity. I am a positive person. I’m a critical thinker. I think carefully about what I should or shouldn’t do, and about things that are wrong and need to be changed. I believe one of the main challenges we face as a community, at times, is our hypocrisy - our society judges things one way, despite at times being a participant in it.
In the past, I’ve provided film workshops for kids in the camp – but this time with CARE I wasn’t teaching it, but participating. Every element of the workshop was powerful, from the script writing and production, to the young actors. In the workshops that I lead, the students are always children, without the same experience and advanced skills. It was different having this level of experience and with professionals from Hollywood.
I don’t expect my films to stop or change politicians, or to make them care more about us. We’re in the refugee camp as a consequence of their actions. But even though I can’t influence them in bringing about a political solution – which is what we require now – I prefer to focus on influencing my community. I want to encourage social awareness on issues like early child marriage, child labor, and violence in the community.
In the past, I made a short film called, “Bad Heritage”, about families forcing girls to drop out of school and marry early. This is something we get from our heritage, a time when the world was more closed. There was no other future for girls than to marry. Everything has changed, though. We are better educated. We have the internet. We have to change, too.
Yaseen, 18, from Homs, Syria
It’s challenging for me to even understand how I came to be here. Everything here is so different from home – for example, the people. In your home you know everyone, and they know you. It’s not like that in the camp. We were strangers put together.
In Syria, I wanted to be a doctor. And still today. My father was an engineer in Homs, before we came here two years ago.
I really liked the film school. It was like a path to a new future. For me, it’s about educating yourself – understanding better how to express your feelings, your ideas. I wanted to tell stories of hope. Despite everything, I still have hope – I get it from my family, from my friends.
I have one message for other Syrian youth: study hard while you’re here in Jordan and then return to Syria and help rebuild your country.
Bushra, 16, from Damascus city
I’m in grade 11. Growing up, I always wanted to be an engineer, but since the war and coming to Jordan, things are different, I’ve changed.
We’re changed by our circumstances.
Because we were living in war, I couldn’t attend school for two years. In Syria, the schools weren’t functioning and after we fled, we were moving so often between places, there was not opportunity. Now I’m back in school and I want to be a journalist. I participate in the camp magazine Campbeat.
I’m motivated by the journalists I remember in Syria. We would talk to them and they shared our voice with the world. They helped us be heard. I want to do the same.
For the same reason, people should watch our film: it will help them better understand the situation of the Syrian people. It’s hard for people to know our feelings because they haven’t lived this. But they should still consider how they can help us and others. Sometimes you may need help yourself.
I have hope in the future. I have goals. We met Mustafa Salameh, a famous mountaineer, during his visit to the camp. He is a Palestinian refugee, but he has still accomplished many things.
We may be refugees, but we can overcome the obstacles we face. We can have goals. We can have hope.
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