A young girl washes her hands at a clean water tank World Vision has installed for Syrian refugees. Photo by Matic Zorman
In March 2013, I was asked to fly to Jordan to assess what was effectively a barren part of the Arabian desert with grand plans to become the next refugee camp for Syrian refugees.
This was deemed necessary, anticipating that the ongoing crisis in Syria would continue, meaning more and more people would be crossing the border seeking refuge. As it stood, Za’atari camp was almost full. There needed to be a new place to house the millions of Syrian refugees fleeing violence in their homeland. And barren it was.
As far as the eye could see it was just hard, dry, red dirt. As I looked around, my mind could not comprehend how we were going to make this work. There was no infrastructure. There was so much work to be done. The extreme weather conditions reached sweltering highs in summer and freezing lows in winter. That alone makes this location difficult for the people who live here. On average, it was 45 degrees every day – difficult for us all, but even more so for the men doing the hard labour.
I have a family here in Australia. It was a big decision to up and leave them for an additional six-and-a half months, to play a part of the team bringing the new Azraq refugee camp to life.
In partnership with UN agencies, the Jordanian Government and other NGO’s, World Vision played an integral role in laying more than 12km of pipes, installing 8 big water tanks of 95,000 litres and almost 2500 latrines. It would be a home for 120,000 people, and our efforts ensured that 50,000 would have access to safe, clean water – something we know is integral and one of the basic needs that refugees need along with food and shelter.
By consulting with the locals close to the new camp, we worked out the water and hygiene challenges for both men and women. The end result was a completely tailored solution for refugees in an Arabian context.
What moved me most was the sense of hospitality. Even with so little, community members and refugees would offer you all they had in appreciation. Even contractors, who needed all the money they could, would give us rock-bottom rates knowing what the outcome would be. Usually in emergency contexts the demand is high so prices are exorbitant. This was true human spirit coming together to make this happen as effectively as possible. Having the government fully supporting this project and being a part of the cluster to make it happen gave the project a clear air of importance.
So, despite being initially overwhelmed collectively, we created the first stages of a much-needed, highly-anticipated refugee camp. My aim was to make what is a hard life a little easier. We aimed to ensure operational issues were minimised – quality was so important. We know the impact of a leaking tap – or worse yet, a leaking pipe, can be devastating for people living in tents. The flooding can ruin the very little possessions they have in a heartbeat.
When I got home, I showed my family the pictures and videos of creating this new little city from scratch. Initially, there wasn’t a single tree. Today, you can see schools, toilet blocks, people integrating. I show my daughters children their age, and remind them of how blessed we are.
I was emotional when I left. I am proud to have been a part of it and so delighted that the pre-planning to cater for dire humanitarian need took place before it was desperately needed.