A tale of two cities: Za’atari refugee camp and the village on the other side

When Za’atari refugee camp opened in Jordan in 2012, its population was in the hundreds. With thousands of refugees crossing the border each night, the camp doubled in size almost immediately and continued to grow at an alarming rate. Today, Za’atari is one of the largest refugee camps in the world, and a temporary home for over 80,000 refugees forced to flee the ongoing violence in Syria. Less well known, and less than a kilometre from the camp, is a village of the same name.

In Za’atari village, over twelve thousand Jordanians and Syrian refugees live in harsh conditions. Despite this, the primary focus of foreign aid and charitable organisations tends to be directed toward providing relief within the camp. In addition to subsistence needs, the residents of Za’atari village also face challenges with access to education, training and psychosocial support in relation to the ongoing effects of violent conflict and displacement.

Acting for Change Jordan is a charitable organisation which seeks to alleviate some of this pressure, providing relief to both poverty-stricken Jordanians and refugees. One of their primary goals is to promote a peaceful coexistence between Syrian refugees and Jordanian citizens, a relationship which has in the past been quite tense as a result of competition for resources and aid.

Kotaiba Alabdullah, the founder of Acting for Change, came to Jordan in 2013 as a Syrian refugee. He dedicates his time to helping those in both Za’atari camp and village, providing aid to those who need it most, irrespective of where they’re from.

“It’s better for them [Za’atari village residents] to feel as though there’s someone who’s really there for them, who’ll stand with them, who’s listening to them,” he said, in an interview conducted in his Jordan home.

“Most of the organisations just come with the food boxes for residents and distribute them then they leave and forget the people. For me, I can’t forget those people so I want to be in their daily life.”

According to Alabdullah, the biggest challenge for their organisation is that it’s not yet as recognisable as bigger charities.

“It’s so difficult because the problem is that it’s happening with the people and not everyone trusts the organisation yet and they don’t trust charities, that’s the biggest problem,” he said.

“Even for me, I don’t trust every organisation because what we see is that most people are interested in themselves, not for supporting the people. When you look at big organisations, and the people who work for them with big salaries, fancy cars and fancy homes, they care about the salary not for the people.”

While their work’s primary aim is to provide poverty-stricken Jordanians and refugees with the bare necessities, Acting for Change hopes to empower communities enough to eventually be able to sustain themselves. Until then, they play a vital role in ensuring that both the residents of Za’atari camp and Za’atari village receive enough support to continue living peacefully in Jordan.

Produced as part of the #AMEJE17 study tour, with thanks to our partners: the Australian Government through the Council for Australian-Arab Relations (CAAR) of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; Qatar Airways; the Changing Lives Program; the University of Canberra; and the Embassy of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in Canberra

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