It is hard to make sense of today. Maybe that is why they refer to the situation here in Jordan as "complex."
Baqaa is called a Camp -- it has been managed by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) for more than 60 years. More than anything it reminds me of a working class neighbourhood in Buenos Aires with narrow paved streets lined with three and four storey cinderblock buildings. It is a crowded place with cheap rents, so many of the Syrian refugees make their way here. This community started life as a refugee camp. I wonder if this is a glimpse into Za'atari's future.
The Makani Centre sits in front of one of the only green spaces in Baqaa. Makani Centres are UNICEF-support initiatives to expand learning opportunities for vulnerable children in Jordan. Here in Baqaa it is a hive of activity for those Syrian children who cannot go to school. Music lessons, pre-school classes, children learning their alphabet -- some seven-year-olds tried to teach me the Arabic letter that makes the sound "b" and roared with laughter at my bad pronunciation. An older group of children are talking about the perils of child labour. We stop to chat. "How many of you work?" They all shake their heads -- although none of them are in school either.
Later that morning when we visit a family a few blocks away from the Centre, we see Mohamed, one of the boys from that class. His father was wounded in the war and cannot work, so Mohamed, who is 15, is working as a stock boy in a supermarket. Two of his younger brothers (there are five boys in the family) are working too.
Mohamed is a bright boy with a ready smile, but when we ask why he didn't tell us he was working when we were in the Makani Centre, he said it was because he was ashamed. That's crazy, I think. Of course he is working. He needs to and he wants to and that's how he can help his family. He gets two hours off every the day to attend life skills and remedial education classes at the Makani Centre. But I am upset that he said he felt ashamed to be working -- even as I wish he didn't have to.
More Syrian refugees live like Mohamed's family -- renting one or two rooms in a working class neighbourhood -- than live in the refugee camps like Za'atari. One of the towns with many refugees is Irbid. It is a bustling place, and UNICEF is helping two Makani Centres here.
The one we visit is bright and airy -- it is run in partnership with an NGO. Like the other Makani Centres it has remedial education so the Syrian children who have missed school can catch up and enroll in Jordanian schools. There is storytelling, too, and psycho-social support and life skills and it serves as a referral centre for children and families needing particular help. It is easy to see why the Government of Canada made funding the Makani Centres a focus of its Syria funding announcement in Ottawa in April.
These places -- and there are 225 of them around Jordan -- are remarkable places which give Syrian children the best chance at some kind of success in life. They provide that vital bridge to the formal education system which they need for their future (we are also working with the Ministry of Education to help increase the capacity of their schools) and they are safe spaces for children. I am proud of our UNICEF colleagues for this innovative program which has gone national.
The war in Syria has shattered their lives. They cannot go back; they do not know what the future will bring.
But still, it is an uphill climb. Mahmood is in his 30s. He was a barber in Syria and now he works as a guard at the Makani Centre. He and his brothers came here with their families when the fighting got too intense. His father refused to leave Syria, but when he got ill, Mahmood's brothers went back to help him. Now, they cannot return to Jordan and Mahmood is caring for 14 people -- his nieces and nephews and sisters-in-law as well as his own small children. (One of his boys is wearing a t-shirt that says "Never Give Up.")
UNICEF has been helping one of his sisters-in-law with the cash transfer program for indigent families. It is a more modern system than any we have in Canada: she has a retina scan and once a month she goes to a bank where she has her eyes scanned and then she gets some money for her children. She doesn't need a registration card, which could get stolen or lost; her eyes are her registration.
But still, even with all the support we can give, I just don't know how this family makes ends meet. And it is not just them or the other families we have met here in Jordan. It is family after family after family. The war in Syria has shattered their lives. They cannot go back; they do not know what the future will bring. Here in Jordan, and in Iraq, Lebanon, Turkey, and across Europe -- this is largest migration we've seen in 70 years.
Our response to this crisis will be critical to shaping the future for millions of children and their families.
We can harden our hearts and try to ignore the countless stories of uncertainty and suffering. We can be overwhelmed with grief -- heaven knows there is enough cause for that -- but that can lead to paralysis and stalemate. Neither of those will do, and so instead we are called to action.
I feel privileged to work with people who are undaunted by the challenge, people whose hearts and heads together give them the strength and wisdom to be creative and do all they can to ease the pain and find a way forward, for that is the only road to a better future, and that is the road we must take.
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The plight of Syrians besieged in the town of Madaya prompted an international humanitarian response (AP Photo) Hunger, starvation, and extreme malnourishment present existential threats to millions of Syria's most vulnerable people. The young, the elderly, and the infirm are all particularly susceptible to the effects of malnutrition, which can stunt the growth of children, and exacerbate chronic medical conditions. Unicef deputy director Lily Caprani told HuffPost UK about the effects long-term malnourishment are having as the Syrian conflict enters its fifth year. She said: "There’s hunger in the short term, and then malnutrition over the longer term severely and in some cases irreversibly damages children’s development, so a child who at the age of two or three is undernourished can physical stop growing. “Unfortunately there are some cases where that cannot be undone. We’re trying to stop getting it to that stage." Unicef continues to work in Syria, and it estimates it has helped the majority of those who need help in accessible areas. That still leaves as many as two million out of reach of aid, however. Towns which are besieged by fighting are particularly difficult to access. In one example, the situation in the Syrian town of Madaya, north west of Damascus, had become so dire that the UN estimated 400 residents needed to be immediately evacuated to receive life-saving treatment. Their conditions related to extreme malnourishment and starvation, as well as medical conditions.
Syrian boys play with snow following a storm in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on January 5 Exposure to the elements is become a concern for aid agencies operating in and around Syria. Harsh winters bring snow, ice, and chilling winds - making for harrowing conditions in houses lacking electricity and the refugee camps bordering on vast, desolate landscapes. "One of the key things we worry about every year in that on top of everything else, we now have extreme cold," Lily Caprani of Unicef UK says, "Although we're doing everything we can to them, they're living in tents, in containers." The organisation is leading a campaign to keep children warm this winter with hats, gloves and scalfs. "Many of the refugees in... countries such as Jordan and Lebanon live in terrible conditions and are struggling to find warmth as temperatures fall," Robert Mardini, director for the Near and Middle East with the International Committee of the Red Cross, told Al Jazeera. "They live with the uncertainty of not knowing what tomorrow will bring, or even if they will ever make it back home one day."
Syrians searching for survivors in the rubble of destroyed buildings following the barrel bomb-attacks of Syrian air forces on February 2, 2014, in Aleppo, Syria. Barrel bombs continue to plague Syrian cities. The improvised devices are thrown from transport helicopters, without the ability to hit specific targets. According to the Syrian Network for Human Rights, the number of civilains killed by Syrian regime barrel bombs outnumbers those slain by the so-called Islamic State and al-Qaeda. Jeremy Binnie, Middle East editor for IHS Jane's Defence Weekly, told HuffPost UK that the bombs were developed due to either a lack of weaponry or aircraft around a year or so into the current conflict. He said: “While early ones appeared to be similar in size to oil barrels, the ones that have been seen generally have a smaller diameter. “They were first seen in the summer of 2012. “They are a way of turning the Syrian air force’s Mi-8/17 helicopters into attack aircraft as the improvised bombs can be rolled out the rear cargo doors.” “The bombs are capable of destroying buildings and killing people, but almost certainly have less explosive power than mass-produced aircraft bombs of similar size."
A Russian bomber drops bombs on a target. Russia has unleashed another barrage of airstrikes against targets in Syria Airstrikes from foreign forces continue to pose a threat to civilian life - however unintended this may be. In December, at least 26 people were believed to have been killed following US-led airstrikes attacking suspected Isis positions. The Guardian reported Rami Abdel Rahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights as saying Isis is in control of Al-Khan but is only on its outskirts, “which is why all of the deaths were civilians”. The US military command said it was investigating the claims. Britain's Royal Air Force, which received Parliamentary authority to commence airstrikes last year, says it is able to say no civilians have died as a result of its recent airstrikes in Syria which are planned meticulously to prevent collateral damage.
A health worker marks the thumb of a Syrian child after giving him polio vaccine (File Photo) Dirty water and the resulting disease pose a continued threat to Syrians living in increasingly unsanitary conditions. Unicef is one of a number of aid agencies working to mitigate the risks, but even it admits that millions of Syrian children and adults who continue to be at risk in areas that cannot be easily reached. While the threat continues to be high - disease is one of the areas of success for agencies trying hard to prevent a public health disaster dovetailing with the fierce conflict. Lily Caprani of Unicef told HuffPost UK: "We’re making sure children and the vulnerable are immunized against waterborne disease, because we know they are going to be exposed to disease so we make sure they’re going to be protected. “This can help prevent a public health disaster. One of the very few pieces of good news is that you would expect the resurgence of disease and infections we would normally not see. “But because we’ve managed to immunize we’ve prevented this. There have been no new cases of polio since January 2014 and that’s short of a miracle. "It’s relatively cheap to do - it doesn’t cost a lot of money and it prevents the snowball effect of a public health emergency." Nonetheless, the shocking state of health uncovered at the besieged town of Madaya in January points towards localised medical emergencies being commonplace in some areas in the country.
A visitor looks at photographs in the 'Caesar's Photos: Inside Syria's Secret Prisons', a collection of photographs smuggled out of Syria last year Torture and execution remain a threat to civilian life throughout Syria, with hundreds allegedly killed at the hands of President Assad's regime alone. Syria has systematically tortured and executed 11,000 of its citizens in the three-year war, according to a report by former war crimes prosecutors, who compared the bodies they saw to images of Nazi death camp victims. Meanwhile the so-called Islamic State has been adept at publicising its regime's torture and execution, even publishing reports in its own magazine, with countless Syrians and scores of foreigners killed in the now signature orange jumpsuits. In January, the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights reported that an Islamic State militant executed his own mother, after she encouraged him to leave the terror group.
Violence and exploitation resulting from the break down of Syrian society present a real threat to the lives of adults and children alike, whilst kidnapping remains a tactic of fear used by militants. There are countless examples of violence between warring factions spilling over into civilian communities, wounding and killing innocent people. Unicef's experience of conflict emergencies across the world has led it to the conclusion that education can protect children from violence and exploitation. Lily Caprani, UK deputy director, told HuffPost UK: "If children are in education, they’re in a safe space. If children are in a safe environment with safe people, the risks of violence and exploitation are lower. "This protects children from adults who might not have their best interests at heart." Kidnapping by Islamic State militants continues to present a real threat to civilian life. Last year, hundreds of innocent people were taken by the group amid mounting international calls for the release of those abducted.
Follow David Morley on Twitter: www.twitter.com/dmorleyunicef