“Houses that are too cold. Shoes that are too small. Resources that are too limited. Conditions that are too hard. And all with no other choice but to accept that these will be the memories that make up their childhood.
Two weeks ago I embarked on my third humanitarian mission as a member of UNICEF’s leadership circle. At a secluded area in Jordan, I was introduced to the Syrian children and families of Az Zarqa Refugee Camp. Surrounding the camp is a simple impoverished Palestinian neighborhood, where I visited a small kindergarten built by UNICEF. There, I instantly noticed how much this institution acts as a haven for all the young children; a place with colors, toys, paint, and an atmosphere that lets them feel like kids again. It seems that for a moment they can forget the hardship of their realities. I felt the strong value of the UNICEF schools to help keep children off the streets and guide them towards the opportunity of a better path.
Unfortunately, the kindergarten can only support so many kids. Due to the scarce resources at the camps, education is a privilege even there and not all have access. While the school rotates in two or three shifts each day, there are still hundreds of children on the waiting lists to have their simple and rightful chance of education.
A difference I noticed on this trip was to see the children move through their days with a sense of humor, with spirit, with educational and professional aspirations, and with hope. I had the opportunity to speak to many young girls who told me of their dreams to go to university and become doctors or lawyers. It was inspiring considering the awareness of the financial obstacles and educational disadvantages at the camp.
I also had the opportunity to visit the student innovation lab, where kids worked on social projects to better the community in the camp. Projects included a mobile library where people can pay to borrow books, a time bank that works on the exchange of time and skills between two people; and finally a sustainable project that recycles materials to create accessories to wear. I was truly taken to see that even in their difficult circumstances and setbacks in education, these students still have the mindset of the forward-thinking generation they were born into.
What stayed with me the most from my trip with UNICEF was not the devastation of the circumstances, but rather the glimmer of their aspirations and capabilities of all the kids I met. I can only image how much each child could achieve if they just had the resources that allowed them to do so. My goal and work with UNICEF is to showcase to as many people as I can reach the potential that these kids have, and to give them what they deserve.
My story and experience only show a minute portion of the 13.5 millions Syrians that fled and require humanitarian assistance. Thanks to UNICEF, so much is being done, but there is still miles to go.
You have to hope, otherwise how can they?”
Jessica Kahawaty is a model, humanitarian, law graduate, and member of UNICEF’s leadership circle.