Stories from the field

by tuftsigl
Jun 27

As a summer 2014 Empower Fellow, Georgie Nink is the Reporting and Emergency Response Intern at Questscope for Social Development in the Middle East, based in Amman, Jordan. Note: The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not imply Questscope endorsement.

Over the past three years civil war in Syria has displaced more than 2.8 million people, of whom about 85,000 have settled in Za'atari Camp in northern Jordan. Za'atari is now one of the most high-profile refugee camps in the world, as its dense concentration of refugees represents a dramatic illustration of Syria's displaced population, and its proximity to Amman (about one hour by car) makes it very accessible to journalists, research teams, humanitarian workers, donors, and celebrities. Za'atari is a popular site for conducting research studies, needs assessments, and situational analyses regarding the conflict and its affect on the displaced Syrian population.

The experience of living in Za'atari forever alters the lives of the Syrian people who seek temporary refuge within its barbed wire fences. In a different way, the experience of visiting Za'atari affects those of us who spend a short and voluntary time within those same fences. As visitors, we come and go, with different stories and objectives. Many hope to leave with new insight into [the Syrian refugee crisis], gain a humbling perspective on the reality of [living in a refugee camp], or simply be able to describe the situation to those back home.

I can tell only my own story and explain only my own objective. I work with Questscope for Social Development in the Middle East, an Amman-based NGO that provides alternative education and mentoring programs for at-risk and out-of-school youth in Jordan. In Za'atari Camp, Questscope has implemented informal education and one-to-one mentoring programs for at-risk youth in the camp, which includes youth in conflict with the law, youth who display violent or anti-social behaviors, child laborers, and/or youth who have dropped out of school.

My position often requires me to translate (literally and figuratively) what happens with Questscope's programs in the field to share with donors, potential donors, and other stakeholders within the education and child protection sectors of the humanitarian relief community. My job is to share the impact of our programs, which I see and feel tangibly when visiting the field, and share it with those who are not there to see and feel it themselves.

To my frustration, only a fragment of that real and tangible impact makes it onto the pages of my work. I can write about how a group of boys became “one team” throughout the course of the mentoring program, after being strictly divided, in the beginning, over their different areas of origin in Syria. Still it is challenging to capture the beaming smile on a small boy's face; the boisterous energy of children running outside to play football together, pushing each other playfully as they shout out the teams; and the pride of a case manager who cannot walk anywhere in the camp without being eagerly greeted by boys he has worked with. It is the true successes of Questscope's programs that cannot be shown or felt in a briefing document, an online article, or a blog post.

To my further frustration, I see this contrast – between reality and the smoothed over, diminished version of reality that gets published – in reports that are generated as a result of the above-mentioned research that takes place in Za'atari Camp. From these reports you can find out how many new Syrian refugees arrive in Jordan per week on average (976), how many caravans are now in Za'atari (15,532), how many children under 5 have recently received polio vaccinations (14,200). But you cannot feel how the mornings are nice and cool in Za'atari, and how dawn brings the first slivers of slanting sun, the last of the cool night air, and the sound of shuffling in nearby tents as people wake, pray, and slowly begin preparing breakfast.

My own reports for Questscope, and others generated in Za'atari, are not inaccurate or useless; they are necessary for assessing the needs of the Za'atari population, determining gaps in programming, and making the humanitarian response more efficient. But they do not tell the whole story. There is only one way to understand the story of life in Za'atari Camp, and that is by living it.

I am caught between two stories, one real, one incomplete, and neither of which are my own. In this middle ground, I can tell only my own story. It is impossible for me to tell someone else's story, let alone paint the picture of 85,000 intertwining life experiences as they grow and change every day in alternating conflict/companionship, boredom/purposefulness, and hope/fear.

Add new comment