Mahmoud is in his forties and used to work as a guard for War Child’s child friendly space in Za’atari refugee camp, Jordan. He and his wife, together with their two sons (now 13 and 16) and their three daughters (now nine, 14, and 15), fled from southern Syria in 2013. The war in their country had forced them from their home. The family left everything behind, ran away from explosions and fighting and sought shelter in neighbouring Jordan. Since then the family has grown to six children, with their son Khalid (now three) born in the camp in 2015. Life continues but so does the hardship.
Mahmoud tells of how difficult the arrival in Jordan was and how hard life in the camp can be. “The first years were really difficult – I couldn’t even breathe. It was like being put in a prison. Everything was lost – my job, my friends, my family, my house. Even the smell of the air is different. But day by day, we got used to it.”
Mahmoud feels that the conflict has affected the mental health of his whole family. The biggest impact of the conflict on the family was the bombing and shooting. Mahmoud says that his nine-year-old daughter was affected most. Even in Za’atari, whenever she heard aeroplanes flying overhead, she would become panicked and would not move.
Mahmoud explains that when a plane flies by “the first moment of panic is always there. With the airport close by, this caused our family a lot of stress. We were all scared.”
Daring to dream again
Almost all Mahmoud’s family attend War Child spaces and activities. Mahmoud’s nine-year-old daughter visited War Child’s psychosocial life skills workshops, designed to build resilience among conflict-affected children. The two eldest daughters attend similar workshops designed specifically for teenage girls.
Mahmoud’s teenage sons joined War Child’s music activities, and the eldest son dreams of being a contestant on The Voice Ahla Sawt, a famous Arabic music TV show. Mahmoud himself learned about and attended War Child’s positive parenting workshops. He liked the classes so much that he convinced his wife to join the next cycle.
Mahmoud says: “The biggest change for me is that I no longer get so angry with my children. When my children used to make a mistake, I would scream and be harsh but now I sit down and talk to them to find out why they are acting in this way. The relationship with my children is now more based on communication and love.”
Time to be a child
During my five-year journey with War Child, I’ve come across many stories of hardships, but I’ve also been inspired by the strength and resilience of families living in the most difficult conditions. I always wondered how children can live in such conditions, where electricity is out, most areas are dusty and dirty, and there are safety concerns, such as uncovered ditches surrounding homes. Despite these conditions, children are always looking for places to play, to socialise, and just simply be children.
War Child’s Time to be a Child project, supported by the IKEA Foundation, aims to provide children with safe communities that promote their healthy development and resilience, focusing on early childhood care and development, psychosocial support, recreational activities and youth engagement. The project’s comprehensive approach allows us to target both children, parents and communities in a unified project. Mahmoud’s family is one of thousands of vulnerable Jordanian and Syrian families across Jordan supported through this project.
In October 2017, War Child hosted the IKEA IWitness team from Poland, who lived an unforgettable experience, which changed their lives. They were determined to convey the messages they heard and communicate the voices of the families they met, such as Mahmoud’s, to their communities.
I’m looking forward to meeting this year’s IWitness team from the UK & IE in September 2018. I hope that the time we’re going to spend together will inspire the team to spread messages of hope and encouragement so that important projects like Time to be a Child continue to be supported in the future.