40 Hour Famine: Refugee children try to start their lives again

Families arrive at camp with nothing but at least they can sleep, laugh and play without constant terror
Kim Crossman with a young Syrian refugee living in the Azraq Refugee Camp in Jordan. Photo / World Vision
Kim Crossman with a young Syrian refugee living in the Azraq Refugee Camp in Jordan. Photo / World Vision

In May, actress and World Vision ambassador Kimberley Crossman visited Syrian refugees living in Jordan to see the work the charity is doing there.

She met a handful of the 600,000 Syrian families forced to flee their homes and heard stories about how they fled rebels and watched family and friends die in front of them.

Funds raised during this year's 40 Hour Famine, which officially starts at 8pm tomorrow, will help develop child-friendly spaces in Jordan.

The spaces provide safe learning environments where children can recover from the trauma of war through sports, arts and play, restart their education and rebuild their lives in a supportive environment.

Kim Crossman met with this young girl in the Jordan city of Salt. She was living with her family who hoped to join the father and grandfather in Germany. Photo / World Vision
Kim Crossman met with this young girl in the Jordan city of Salt. She was living with her family who hoped to join the father and grandfather in Germany. Photo / World Vision


The theme is One Weekend, One Backpack and Crossman will join Kiwis willing to swap everyday luxuries for essential items that they can carry in one backpack.

Below, Crossman shares her diary on the first three days of her trip.

Day One

Today was a big day. We met two families who fled Syria five years ago.

One family's home was unexpectedly bombed, and the other's home was raided by rebels. The mother had to take her children and flee as her son and husband were beaten. She paid off a guard, using her one gold bracelet, to get them out of the camps and into the city.

She did all this with six children under 12 years old. She is now in a room in a village where they have no furniture and can't pay rent but the landlord has shown grace and not yet kicked them out. She hasn't heard from her husband but clutches an old cellphone in the hope he will find a way to contact her.

Kim Crossman met these children in Irbid in the north of Jordan. Photo / World Vision
Kim Crossman met these children in Irbid in the north of Jordan. Photo / World Vision


She isn't educated so she struggles a lot. She was a stay-at-home-mum in Syria, and her husband had a great job - they had nice things and a happy life.

Her children are very polite and her 12-year-old son is trying to find some work he can do (Syrians are not yet able to enter the workforce legally, although some permits were being accepted for trades and agriculture work) so he can help feed the family.

Some of the children attend classes that World Vision provides to educate refugees. One of the boys came home with a certificate one day - as his mother tells us this her eyes start to well up with tears, and she smiles, saying it feels as though he is a doctor, she is so proud of him. We all clap and congratulate him.

Day Two

Another eye-opening day today. I think after meeting every family today I have a better idea of what to expect and feel a bit more strength to receive their stories.

A highlight today is meeting Hussam Alheraky, a very well-spoken 16-year-old man who has taught himself English in the camps in three months. He has a great sense of humour, which is refreshing given the stories we've heard, including his, are so very sad and scary.

He said when they were fleeing to the border after three days of walking in the night, with no food or water, they had to hide in a room while a helicopter hovered above them for hours, ready to shoot. They had to sedate the babies so they wouldn't cry and reveal their location.

Manar, 5, and Mansa 3, fled Syria with their family in 2011 after bombs destroyed their village, leaving it without access to water. They are now in Jordan. Photo / World Vision
Manar, 5, and Mansa 3, fled Syria with their family in 2011 after bombs destroyed their village, leaving it without access to water. They are now in Jordan. Photo / World Vision


Hussam said everyone was so scared and crying, yet he was so tired from walking for three days that he slept through the entire thing.

He spoke about seeing his friends killed in front of him after they all sat their last English exam, and how that was the moment he realised he and his family needed to leave Syria and seek safety.

I have brought a container of bubbles with me as an icebreaker with children, in case they are uncomfortable having a bunch of strangers in their space. I give them to a 5-year-old girl who blows bubbles constantly for the two hours we are there. She is so thankful when I say she can keep them. She starts teaching her brothers and sisters how to do it.

Day Three

Today is probably the most overwhelming yet. I have seen things that are hard to swallow.

We are in the Azraq Refugee Camp. This is the second camp Jordan has built and it has about 30,000 occupants, with hundreds more arriving each day once they are cleared via background checks at the border, making sure they aren't Isis. (At the time of printing, that number had since grown to more than 40,000). There are now about 60,000 people waiting at the border after fleeing their homes in Syria.

Kim Crossman entertains a 5-year-old girl with bubbles. Photo / World Vision
Kim Crossman entertains a 5-year-old girl with bubbles. Photo / World Vision


The camp itself is impressive. It's in the middle of the desert for starters. Each "house" (the size of a one-car garage) holds six people. If you are a family of seven or more you will get two houses.

They all come with nothing but receive some small mattresses, a gas burner, some hygiene packs and some food stamps from aid agencies. The money they are given is attached to a retina scan so there is no chance of a black market being created in the camp for money or food.

World Vision has set up the bathrooms for each village and now has turned its attention to making child-friendly spaces and education. They have also made a football field. It's clear those efforts now are injecting some quality of life for the families, whose future may not ever be back in Syria. They could be in these camps for quite some time, unless the war dies down and it's safe to return home.

One thing they do have in the camp setting is a sense of safety. Even this awful situation beats what they were going through in Syria. At least here they are not worried about random air strikes.

Among the families I speak to, this is the main thing. The fact they can sleep at night is life-changing, and to see their children laughing brings them so much joy.

Some of the older children seem the most affected. One boy has a bad skin condition due to the stress of what he saw in Syria - his school being bombed and his friends dying in front of him, and his mother having a heart attack in the camp last year after a build-up of heavy stress.

The highlight for me today is spending time with the young girls while they played football. They love my lip balm and blonde hair and tickles, ha ha.

We also meet a man getting married in the camp today. He is so excited. I am sure getting married in a refugee camp wasn't how they pictured their big day, but he is in good spirits and we are all really excited for him.

An after-school football game for the girls at Azraq Refugee Camp in Jordan. Photo / World Vision
An after-school football game for the girls at Azraq Refugee Camp in Jordan. Photo / World Vision


40 Hour Famine 2016

When: Officially starts at 8pm tomorrow and ends at midday on Sunday, raising money for refugee children in Jordan.
Sign up/donate: www.famine.org.nz
Social: #40HFNZ, Facebook & Instagram @40hourFamineNZ, Snapchat WorldVisionNZ.

- NZ Herald

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