Well, I am here in Jordan. I am quite overwhelmed at the logistics that remain to be figured out, and the updating I need to complete for the weekly communications/arts diplomacy workshops. The Jordanian people, now my friends, are turning out to be incredibly generous and helpful.
A few things off the bat:
– Everyone here seems to be a chain smoker. Im struggling to keep up. Actually, no I am not.
– Most everyone I meet is a Palestinian refugee. The ingredients for what makes a ‘Jordanian’ are not that obvious to me, since so much of the population are considered Palestinian refugees.
– There are increasing tensions among working class Jordanians, Palestinians and incoming Syrian refugees in Jordan. Working class Jordanians feel increasingly neglected as food, jobs and social services are being diverted to the growing number of Syrian refugees, many of whom are willing to take work for much less pay. I am beginning to identify how this project can also serve disadvantaged, non-Syrian communities.
– Kids seems to be everywhere. These Jordanian children might as well be 30 years old. The way they carry and look after their younger siblings down the streets; the way their eyes capture the world around them—everything about the young children in Amman speaks to being older on the inside that a typical American 10 year old.
– The Arab Spring is seen as a bad joke, according to several young Jordanians I have spoken to so far. According to one Palestinian refugee, she would prefer internal corruption that slowly gets chipped away by its own people instead of a chaotic revolution where foreign actors come in and everything gets destroyed. ‘Democracy and revolution–these are bad jokes’, one tells me.
Ok, back to why I am here. Today I hit the ground running, thanks to the support of hard working and talented Jordanians–such as Manal and Dareen– who are working to make our world a better place. In my first meeting in Amman at United Nations Population Fund’s (UNFPA) offices, I met with Dareen of Y-Peers and Ashraf from the NGO, Questscope. Questscope are kindly granting me clearance to Zatari and mobilizing their Syrian youth beneficiaries to participate in my workshops. This is a major development.
There are some cultural sensitivities that I will need to be aware of every moment I am working with the Syrian refugee youth. In particular, it may prove quite difficult for the project to work with young female refugees since culturally, parents may not sign consent for their daughters to participate in workshops using cameras and other new media. This project in the past has worked better with girls since they typically thrive in the workshops and choose to tackle real social issues with the film projects. I will do my best to try and incorporate as much gender balance as possible. This will be important.
Another challenge will be mobility within the refugee camps. I am not allowed to film outside the facilities of my workshops. This will limit how the youth can film and what they can film. I am also not allowed to have the youth push on contentious subject matter associated with religion and politics. This would affect trust with the refugee community and invite threats to overall security by drawing attention.
All this can be boiled down to not drawing too much attention to oneself or the project while it is in operation. This point was reaffirmed by a diplomat who warned me that if something goes wrong, those around me will look for a scapegoat and that I should be extra careful with how I operate and work in this environment.
There are however powerful examples of successful youth programs in Zatari. These will provide important lessons for me. One of the most powerful Questscope programs I heard Ashraf talk about was getting refugees special permission to leave the camps and go to beaches in Aqaba. Getting Syrian refugees permission to leave the camps is no easy feat. According to Ashraf, refugee youth totally transformed at the ability to leave the walls behind and be normal for a day at the beach. The spiritual retreat enabled the youth to feel equal to those around them and opened them up to play, observe, laugh, cry, and begin to rebuild.
Sunday will be my first official visit to Zatari, one of the largest refugee camps in the world.