I woke up early this morning, partly because I was excited, nervous and trepidatious about what the day had in store for us, but also because the call to prayer from the mosque across the road from our hotel sounded at 4.40am. I needn’t have set my alarm clock.

After breakfast, I stepped outside to taste the air and properly view our surroundings. The traffic was slowly beginning to build, but there was a freshness in the warm air and the sky was a vibrant blue contrasting with the pale concrete buildings and sandy, dusty side streets. As I was taking it all in, a steady stream of tourists was exiting the hotel and pouring onto waiting coaches, ready to whisk them south to Petra, Wadi Rum, the Dead Sea and the Red Sea. They were seemingly blissfully unaware of the issues, challenges and burdens that the Syrian refugee crisis has placed on this beautiful yet troubled country. In that moment, and in many moments to come, I felt incredibly privileged to have been given the opportunity to witness first hand the wonderful work that War Child is doing in Jordan to help improve the lives of children and their families affected by the crisis.

Following a briefing session at the War Child offices in central Amman to ensure that we were all clear about safety and security procedures and cultural considerations, we headed off in our minibus. We were visiting one of the community-based organisations (CBOs) in Amman who War Child partner with to deliver our IKEA Foundation-funded programme. In a nutshell, these projects focus on the provision of safe places for children to play and early childhood activities (ages four to six); psychosocial support, life skills and recreational activities (ages seven to 15); youth groups (Youth Communications Champions) focusing on child rights and emotional wellbeing though structured activities such as theatre, film and photography (ages 15 to 20); and parenting skills and psychosocial support for caregivers.

Our visit to the local CBO allowed us to observe and participate in three different sessions: a Positive Parenting session with a mothers’ group, a Youth Communications Champions reflection session, where a group of youths (ages 14-17) had received photography training, and an early childhood care and development ‘taster’ session (ECCD) for children aged four to five. Every session was fascinating, and it was extremely rewarding to see and hear first hand the positive effect that the project having on the children and families who attend, and to observe the work and dedication of the incredible people who run and facilitate the sessions.

I found the ECCD session particularly interesting and emotionally affecting. We were permitted to interreact and ‘play’ with the children as they experienced different educational play activities such as stencil drawing, pot planting, hand-painting prints, jigsaw puzzles and crafting with playdough. None of the children were yet enrolled in primary education and it was obvious that most, if not all, had never experienced many of the activities. While this was a taster session for what is a structured programme (two cycles of support sessions, each of which is four months long), it was clear to me that the programme is essential for successful integration into mainstream education. It can help ensure that children’s development and educational needs are met and that they have psychological support and protection as they thrive and develop.

I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to give a little juggling display and to facilitate a session making juggling balls from recyclable balloons and soil. Talal, War Child’s Project Manager for all the Amman locations, served as a translator for me and it was incredible to witness his skills and passion as he held the children’s attention and encouraged them get involved. I had expected to run the session with a small group, but everyone got involved! It was probably a bit chaotic, with most of the staff and my fellow Ambassadors having to form a production line of sorts to ensure that most of the children had the chance to participate, but it was great fun and I think that everyone enjoyed it. I certainly did. I don’t think that it’ll be added to the curriculum, but I was honoured to have had the opportunity to get to work and play so closely with the children.

War Child and this local CBO in Amman are doing truly amazing, inspiring and needed work for some of the most vulnerable refugee children and families in Amman, all of which is supported and funded by the IKEA Foundation. I feel truly proud to be part of the organisation, and extremely thankful to have been given the opportunity to see it with my own eyes and to share the experience back in the UK.



    Simon Thomas