By Simon Ingram
MA’AN, Jordan, 22 March 2012 – Peering intently at the scrap of pink material in her hands, 12-year-old Omaima* is a picture of concentration. Around her, about 20 other girls are busily wielding needles and thread and following the instructions of their teacher.
|UNICEF reports on children who have escaped the crisis in Syria and found refuge in neighbouring Jordan. Watch in RealPlayer|
This weekly sewing class is organized by the Jordanian Hashemite Fund for Human Development (JOHUD), a national NGO and UNICEF partner, in the desert town of Ma’an, a three-hour drive south of the capital, Amman.
But the girls themselves are from the Syrian city of Homs, one of the flashpoints in the year-long crisis on the other side of Jordan’s northern border.
Memories of conflict
Absorbed by the stuffed pink teddy bears taking shape in their hands, the girls might seem to have left the turmoil of their former lives behind them.
But for Omaima, terrible recollections of her last days in Homs are never far away.
“There were dead people on the streets and heavy gunfire. There was shooting. Homes were destroyed, buildings collapsed. The injured were lying on the ground. It was so terrible, living through that.”
She says that going to school had brought some normalcy to her life until the unrest forced classes to be suspended. On the day her school reopened, the staff and students found a chilling message had been left behind.
“There was a note on the school door telling parents who sent their children back to school that they would regret it. Some children went despite this, and some of them were killed.”
For many of the girls, their flight to Jordan was almost as traumatic as the situation in Homs.
“The day we left Homs, there was shelling,” recalls 16-year old Nermine. “We were getting ready to leave everything – our family, our relatives. We weren’t sure whether anything would still be there when we came back. And we were about to go to a new world that we didn’t know anything about.”
|UNICEF correspondent Simon Ingram reports on programmes helping Syrian refugee children in Jordan recover from the conflict in their home country. Watch in RealPlayer|
Coming to terms with the past
Nine months after Nermine and her family reached Ma’an, the process of adjusting to new surroundings is well under way, thanks in part to the UNICEF-sponsored activities at JOHUD.
“Here we’re all of the same age and we try to relieve the tension and channel our energy into something positive and useful by engaging in arts and crafts and learning how to cook,” says Nermine. “All this helps us.”
In addition, children from the 150 families now living in Ma’an are continuing their normal educations, having been admitted to local Jordanian schools.
“At first, it was clear that they were affected by the situation their country is in,” says Nooran Sherari, who teaches art at the JOHUD centre. “They came here, to a place where they didn’t know anybody... When they started releasing their energy through painting, we understood what they were going through.”
She says it is the older children who often seem more deeply affected by their experiences.
“The children have seen things they shouldn’t have seen at their age. They saw violence, they saw blood, they saw the injured, the dead. They saw themselves being displaced and their families humiliated.”
But Ms. Sherari believes the activities are helping the Syrian children come to terms with the experiences they have been through.
“After a while, they started enjoying the activities more. I noticed because at 8 o’clock sharp, they would all be waiting at the gate, ready to start the class.”
Pausing from her needlework, Omaima agrees.
“Going to school and coming to this centre has helped us a lot. But it’s hard to forget what’s happening in Homs. Everywhere I go, Syria is in my mind.”
*The names of the children in the article have been changed to protect their identity
Crisis in Syria