reflections upon returning home / by Maranie Staab

since the eruption of the brutal conflict in syria in march of 2011, more than 2.5 million refugees have fled their homes in search of peace, safety, and some sense of normalcy. 

while tens of thousands have and continue to seek refuge in neighboring countries (turkey, lebanon and iraq to name a few), the zaatari (مخيم الزعتري) refugee camp, has quickly become a semi-permanent home for nearly 100,000 individuals. the camp is a three-square-mile piece of land located in the desolate jordanian desert; it was initially designed to host a maximum of 60,000 inhabitants and is jointly administrated by the jordanian government and the UNHCR. 

located 10 km east of mafraq and first opened on on july 28, 2012 the camp is now the 4th largest ‘city’ in the hashemite kingdom of Jordan — most originating in the da’ara governorate in syria’s southwest.

approximately 55% of those calling the zaatari camp “home” are under the age of 18, making the provision of basic education to school-aged children challenging, at best. although there are several schools within zaatari the regular attendance of classes is markedly low. aid and educational efforts are abundant in Zaatari, but the stories and lived experiences of these children – and the policy implications of those stories – are too often lost in translation.

as the international community seems to be experiencing variations of syria “fatigue,” the children of zaatari show a resilience and determination of a far higher caliber. 

i had the privilege of spending nearly two weeks in the camp (and later working in the outlying Mafraq tent camps). 

i am home now — back in pittsburgh — and as I go through the thousands of photos on my hard drive I wish more than anything that I could do more than simply share their names, their faces and their stories here, with you. but it’s a start. until we stop talking about people in large, anonymous, faceless numbers — 2.5 million — it will difficult to evoke the type of response necessary to save this generation of our fellow human beings.