There are more people on the move globally today than ever before. I have ushered in the new year alongside beautiful human beings, individuals who have taught me so much in such a short time, Syrian refugees in informal tent settlements in Jordan.
I am proud to be here to listen, learn, film, and capture personal stories to be able to then share widely — especially alongside the brilliant work of the International Rescue Committee (IRC) community health field team. Stay tuned for more formal content. Until then, here are some of my words and images from on the ground…
"We used to laugh, we used to play, we used to go for picnics… I wish Syria could become like before." Meet Mulham, my new friend and extraordinary 13-year-old young man (left). He and his extended family fled unimaginable violence and destruction in Hama, Syria and are now living in a refugee tent camp outside of Amman, Jordan. I have the distinct honor of ushering in the new year right here with beautiful souls, who are teaching me lessons in their every breath and gesture. This is my first solo video project ever, here alongside the hard-working International Rescue Committee community health field team. I am humbled to be able to hear, internalize and share Mulham's story firsthand.
This is Yasmin, a most precious 4-year-old Syrian girl with that perfect glimmer of mischief in her eye. Like many young refugees in camps or informal tent settlements across Jordan and other nations, her only documentation is a first name below a small square photograph at the bottom of a single piece of paper – her mother’s proof of UNHCR asylum seeker status. Yasmin is part of what many view as a lost generation in the making, Syrian children forced to flee a violent nation or born outside its borders during the crisis, unable to remember anything but life in the camps, without access to proper education, sanitation, jobs, shelter or medical services. She joyously and patiently sat on my lap whilst I filmed video interviews with her family in the tapestry-covered tent she now calls home. Over endless cups of piping hot tea, Yasmin snapped away on my iPhone, deftly switching back and forth between closeups of her uncles and selfies of the two of us, which I have only just discovered. We – people of all backgrounds and schools of thought – must organize, strategize, unite, and commit to actively work towards a better, peaceful, just future for the Yasmins of our world.
"We are from Syria. We came here on October 14, 2014." Every refugee I have met can speak the exact day he or she was forced from Syria, home, familiarity because of war and conflict.
I walked into a tent of Syrian men – seated in a circle, sharing medical details with a community health worker before seeing the doctors and nurses on the International Rescue Committee mobile clinic’s first visit to their tent camp outside of Amman, Jordan. This man sat across from me in his traditional red and white shemagh; I felt his presence, not simply watching, but truly seeing me. I began to pose questions via a field translator, then asked if I could take out my camera to film. All said yes – and oh did they have stories to tell about Syria, the late fall of their beloved city of Hama, and inescapable daily difficulties of life as a refugee. I feel such profound responsibility to be able to share his, to share all of their truths.
What does home mean to you? This tent camp is home to 33 Syrian refugee families who are now living in SAFETY in Jordan, after fleeing crisis and violence. I have been welcomed in with open arms — to learn, listen, document, film and share their human stories. I can only that hope we, as nations and a global community, recognize and welcome refugees with open minds and hearts.
“They burned my home. I had nothing to stay for.” A mother of four, Shiri had no choice but to leave her city of Daraa, Syria for the safety and survival of her family (woman on left). At the time, she had four children under the age of 7. A pregnant Shiri crossed the nearby Jordanian border with only her kids, entered the massive Zaatari refugee camp, and then left for an informal tent settlement – similar to the one where she now lives, where I met her in Al-Mafraq, where I was to capture and transmit raw personal truths. Her dream is to see Syria as it was before, a place she can only describe as heaven. Her youngest children haven’t even seen her homeland, like little Qais, with whom she was pregnant while fleeing Daraa, front and center. Despite lacking a nation, she – and I – believe the kids will be alright. She's actively working and praying for it every single day. May we all.
Three generations of Syrian men. "We are all waiting patiently to fill Syria with peace." After having a son brutally murdered and moving twelve times within the city of Hama in search of safety, Izzu fled to Jordan with his remaining children and grandchildren. Here – in this temporal refugee camp where I am to meet, learn of, and amplify their stories – the extended family feels safe, which is his number one concern and sole indicator of happiness.
Qais wanted to say hello to everyone — and welcome us to his home. He fled Syria in utero, after their home was burned to the ground when his mother was pregnant. He's now a jovial little man — who greeted me with kisses and hugs when I arrived to interview his family at the informal tent settlement in Jordan where they live alongside hundreds of other refugees, patiently awaiting the end of the war in Syria.
What a man. What a face. What stories. He had endless things to tell me, long tales to share, details to recount, wisdom to impart about the life he loved in Syria and truths of a refugee existence in Jordan. He spoke to me in rapidfire Arabic, fully aware that I couldn’t understand even a word, yet unbelievably communicative through his eyes and mouth and hand gestures. Somehow, even without the help of my superb International Rescue Committee translator, I understood him. May we all grow to understand each other more fully, more openly, more honestly.
☕️ Cups and cups and cups of tea, prepared for me with the utmost love and care (and sugar!) by an unbelievably welcoming Syrian family in the beautifully appointed tent they call home at a refugee camp in Jordan. While I interviewed and filmed various men, women and children about their lives pre and now during the war in Syria, the kettle kept on flowing, as a young boy refilled my glass with pride before it ever reached empty. I felt seen, appreciated and trusted — which all at once humbled, energized and made me feel at ease. It's remarkable just how deep bonds can become over strongly brewed tea and disarming smiles in this part of the world.