Middle East

Ideas Box brings oasis of learning to Syrian child refugees

Syrian children draw during the inauguration of the “Ideas Box” kit, a BSF initiative at Azraq refugee camp in Jordan.

AZRAQ REFUGEE CAMP, Jordan: The middle of a desert is not the kind of place you’d expect to be able to sit down with a good book, watch a movie or surf the Internet.

But that is exactly what children who have fled the deadly conflict in Syria are now able to do at Azraq refugee camp in Jordan.

The camp, some 100 kilometers east of Amman, opened a year ago and now has a population of 18,000 and a capacity of 100,000.

For young impressionable minds, the major battle has been to ward off boredom. Azraq now boasts a library nestling in the middle of thousands of metal sheds.

It was created at the initiative of French NGO Libraries without Borders (BSF) in partnership with the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR and the NGO Care.

“There’s an illness that threatens people. It’s called boredom,” said BSF president Patrick Weil. “No other person could stay here just to eat three times a day. They need to be able to connect with the world to know what is happening. They need to look to the future.”

Four multicolored cubes and two storage units make up the BSF-designed kit library dubbed an “Ideas Box.”

Its design draws on transport containers used for music events, meaning it is easily movable and deployable on the ground.

The 100-square-meter space is “perfectly adaptable to urgent humanitarian situations,” the project’s organizers say.

BSF deployed its first Ideas Box in Burundi last year, and then dispatched another to Beirut, destined for Syrian refugees.

It boasts around 20 computers and tablets, Internet connection, a cinema, electronic books and “real” ones.

The reading material for the refugees was carefully selected by Jordanian, Syrian and Lebanese teachers, Weil said.

A smiling Maram, 12, was one of the first to visit the Ideas Box, and got straight down to “work.”

“I’m going to come every day,” she said. “I love drawing and reading.”

Maram drew birds, trees and a blue river, in stark contrast to the almost lunar landscape in which she has lived since fleeing the war in Syria with her family.

Ten-year-old Islam was also thrilled. “They told us we can come here every day, and that they’ll teach us how to dance and act,” he said.

For France’s ambassador to Jordan, Caroline Dumas, this “fundamental project ... affects the children’s future, allowing them to connect to the outside world and remain hopeful, to continue learning ... and build a future.”

The Ideas Box would also help children – up to half the camp’s population – “overcome the trauma they have experienced,” she said.

According to the U.N., the conflict in Syria has displaced 7.6 million people over the past four years and created 3.9 million refugees. It has also claimed the lives of an estimated 220,000 people. The U.N. children’s fund (UNICEF) says up to 2 million children are living in areas of Syria largely cut off from humanitarian aid and about 2.6 million are out of school.

Jordan, which shares a 370 km border with Syria, currently hosts more than 600,000 Syrian refugees.

In addition to Azraq, another desert camp in the north at Zaatari has a population of around 80,000.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 01, 2015, on page 11.




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