Improving the Lives of Syrians

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by Malda Takieddine (MLA Candidate ’14)

As a Syrian, I’ve spent the past three years struggling to accept what is happening in Syria. In particular, I’ve been trying to find a way to contribute and help the people of my country, while I am more than 6000 miles away.

As a landscape architect student at the UW, I chose to focus my thesis on improving the lives of Syrians in a refugee camp. In particular, I’m focusing on children and researching how places can help treat children’s war traumas and help with the healing process.

When I began searching for ideas, the Al-Za’atari Camp in Jordan was the first to come to my mind; it is the fourth largest city in Jordan housing more than 100,000 Syrian Refugees. In January, I joined a local charity, Salam Cultural Museum (SCM) in their January medical mission, and I spent five days in Jordan. Also, through the help of Mercy Corps I was able to visit Za’atari.

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The camp is located north of Jordan, more than 30,000 of the camp residents are kids. The camp is a very sad place – it is located in an open arid area that is vulnerable to all the desert toughness. In addition, I was shocked by the conditions these people are living in. Many people are in tents, some are in caravans, and many aspects of decent human living are absent. People are crammed into small tents or studio-sized caravans, with neither private bathrooms nor basic sanitary tools. Mothers have to carry their sick children and walk long distances to reach a clinic. People have to walk a long way, on gravel and mud, and face the harsh elements to reach their daily needs. While the camp lacks basic necessities, it has few recreation areas and playgrounds. These playgrounds can take children away from the hard reality of the camp. It is like an oasis with great therapists who are giving all their efforts to accommodate and help children heal from their struggles. I was able to talk to staff and learn about their experiences in the camp and their experiences in dealing with kids. Moreover, I was very happy to be able to do some exercises with the kids. I asked the kids (ages between 3- 13) to draw the places that they like the most in the camp, and I was emotionally touched from the results. There were more than forty kids; the majority of them drew their houses back in Syria with trees and flowers; and many have sun and butterflies. Other kids draw buses and told me that these buses are the ones that bring them to Za’atari from Syria. I heard from the staff that at the beginning most of the kids drew only war images and scenes, but by the time of my visit they noticed less kids were drawing them.

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With no end in sight to the crisis in Syria, the refugee numbers continue to rise. UNHCR estimates that more than five million kids are affected by the war in Syria. One million of them are refugees in the neighboring countries. The refugee camps should be a space where people feel relived and safe after their long emotional road of suffering. It is the hardest thing on human beings to be forced to leave their home, and that was very obvious in all the kids’ drawings and I felt it in all the discussions with the residents of Za’atari. Most of them watched their homes and neighborhoods destroyed. Therefore, as a landscape architect, I aspire to be part of developing refugee camp and an advocate for the need of our profession to create a difference in this world.

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All Pictures were taken by Malda Takieddine