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Zaatari camp magazine gives refugees a voice

By Rana Husseini - Jan 25,2016 - Last updated at Jan 25,2016

Photos courtesy of The Road

ZAATARI REFUGEE CAMP — Khaldieh Ali, a Syrian refugee at Zaatari camp, has taken it upon herself to show the world that Syrian children are ambitious and have their own dreams.

The 18-year-old, who arrived to the Mafraq camp, some 90km northeast of Amman, in January 2013 with her parents, grandmother and seven siblings, writes articles for The Road Magazine in order to spread her message to the world.

“I want the world to know that we, Syrian children, have our own dreams and ambitions and we are not homeless,” Ali told The Jordan Times.

Initiated in May 2014 by Japanese Emergency NGO (JEN) with the support of UNICEF, The Road Magazine, which is based in the camp, features the work of around 80 refugee volunteers between the ages of 14 and 27.

Ali said writing in the magazine has also helped "fight complicated beliefs and thoughts within my own community”.

“Since arriving, we faced many challenges, including my having to drop out of school because my father did not feel comfortable about it due to young men harassing girls in the camp,” she said.

Ali has written about problems in the camp's society, including early marriage and harassment, and she noted that “our reporting is being met with positive reactions from the refugee community”.

Zaatari camp, the largest for Syrian refugees in Jordan, is currently home to 79,357 people, according to the UNHCR's latest available figures.

“I love working for the magazine and I have a strong will to make changes and give hope to people in my own community,” Ali added.

“The Road Magazine is written by refugees for refugees at Zaatari camp,” Hada Sarhan, the editor-in-chief of the magazine, told The Jordan Times.

Sarhan said the magazine started with seven volunteers from the refugee camp producing an eight-page magazine, and after two years, the total number of contributors reached 79 — 45 men and 34 women, who are responsible for producing a 24-page magazine.

“When … the magazine started, people at the camp were hesitant because they were worried about other things, such as securing food and better living conditions,” Sarhan explained.

But when the first issue was distributed, she added, “we were surprised how many people were eager to read the magazine and later join in writing”.

Mohammad A., one of the publication's volunteers, said the magazine helped him accomplish his dream of becoming a journalist.

“I always wanted to be a journalist, but when we were forced to leave Syria and come here, I thought my dream was shattered,” the 19-year-old told The Jordan Times.

“But when I heard about the magazine via electronic means, I was extremely excited and immediately joined and started writing about the camp and even took photos to support my articles,” Mohammad said.

The distribution of the magazine in the refugee camp includes 5,000-7,500 copies in Arabic and English, according to Sarhan, who has over 30 years of experience as a reporter.

Sarhan said the magazine administration approached contributors via WhatsApp, and “people started sending their personal stories and poems”.

“At first it was only men contributing, but then women joined thanks to the many workshops we conducted,” she added. 

At first, Sarhan said, the contributors “used fake names out of fear of persecution by the regime, since some of their relatives have remained in Syria and they feared they would be harmed”.

But the magazine and the training workshops helped them “regain self-confidence and [find] a meaning for their lives", she noted.

“Most of them voiced their frustration [about] the situation. Many were bored, depressed and felt useless because they sit at home for a long time doing nothing,” Sarhan explained.

Other topics discussed in the magazine have included personal success stories, reproductive health, early marriage, gender-based violence, widows’ hardships, and harassment of school-aged girls and girls dropping out of school as a result, she said.

Wisam Mohammad, 31, who saw a rocket destroy her home in Daraa in 2013, told The Jordan Times that the magazine provided her with new hope and allowed her to see the world in a positive way.


“I got the chance to write about people in need and help them. I got the chance to see the world in a different way and to learn something new every day.” 

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