It’s a cool crisp Monday morning in the town of Irbid in northern Jordan. Around me a sea of quiet children, seated in rows of desks, heads bent over paper and pencil. Classes in English, Arabic and Maths are underway with Jordanian and Syrian students from ages 6 – 13.
It isn’t long until curious eyes peek up from under dark lashes and the odd shy smile emerges. As I smile back and raise my camera the children throw caution to the wind and rise from their desks and fling their arms around their friends for me to take a class photograph. Seconds after that they cluster round me to look at the back of my camera and to smile and point each other out to their friends. “Good photo” says one of the boldest. “What’s your name?”
It could be any class, any where. We wander around looking at the pupils work, talking with their teachers. “The children are always excited to be at school” says one teacher. I ask the boys if they like school. “No,” one giggles, “we like playing football” but he is just teasing. Their pleasure at simply being there is evident. During morning break (the school makes sure the pupils receive juice and a hearty snack) we chat with the teachers about the challenges of their job. One boy proudly produces a hand full of glass marbles from his jacket pocket. They have very little but they want to share it with us.
But, of course, these aren’t all ordinary boys. This is no ordinary classroom. Many of these children have fled from the violence of war just kilometres across the border in Syria. The young man with the glittering prize of marbles takes us to his home to meet the rest of his family.
In a 3 room basement apartment in an unfinished building nearby to the school lives a family of 9. It is less crowded now that the father’s parents have returned to Syria. The apartment is cold and a little damp. But it is safe. There is shelter, water, electricity and on the sum of £15 per head per month the family clothes, feeds and educates their children. There is no money for health care nor anything but the most basics of life. There are no possessions.
Possessions were left behind when the family home was shelled 4 years ago and they fled into a snowy night. Everywhere they ran to “the slaughter started again”. Eventually the mother found a driver to take them across the border. They had to pay extra as her mother in law is in a wheelchair.
The youngest 3 children have no memories of Syria, and their 18 month old daughter was born in Jordan. They foresee no return. The eldest son (20) moves around us often with glasses of sweet hot tea, he shows us his school certificates. He was studying pharmacy, but continuing those studies seems a dream now. He clings to hope that one day he will get a phone call approving him for re-settlement in Europe “anywhere I can study”. I nod, but I as I think of the odds of that call coming I choke back tears. The children’s father comes into the guest room where we are seated with the children and their Mum and tells us that he and his wife had very little education. It was all they hoped for, for their children. And there is time now for these youngest children.
As we talk, via an interpreter, Aintifar and I lock eyes. As a mother with children of the same age as hers I feel her pain but hear her will that all will be well for them. On leaving Aintifar leaps up and says she forgot to give us something, (we have already drunk coffee and tea and said we can’t possibly stay for lunch). She hands each of her 6 guests a Twix bar. I am completely humbled.
I messaged my children to tell them that these people who have the kind of nothing that my children really cannot conceive have sent them a gift of a sweet. They cried and for once I was glad of their tears. Glad that they understood.
That’s my job this week. To reach out and share some understanding.
Rosie is visiting Jordan with World Vision. You can follow her trip across social media on#barefootcoatless.