Photo: Iyad training a group of young Syrians and Jordanians as part of the Aswat Faeela project
“I told myself I will stay here for two months till the conflict ends, then I will go back home,” says Iyad, a 29-year-old Syrian newly-wed who fled to Jordan with his wife in 2013, after violence escalated in Syria.
This didn’t happen. Iyad is now in his fifth year of exile and he still hasn’t returned home.
After arriving at Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, Iyad queued with hundreds of other Syrians to receive food. He managed to get a few cans of chickpeas on his first day, before going in search for for bread in the intense heat and dust. “At that moment, I wished I had died back in Syria and didn’t have to go through this difficult moment as a refugee. I was losing all hope.”
Jordan, which borders with Syria, is currently host to more than half a million registered Syrian refugees, and the number of those who are unregistered is thought to be much higher.
Iyad was determined to leave the camp with his wife, who was six months pregnant. He started the challenging task of finding a job and new shelter. At first, he looked for somewhere he could use his university degree, but to no avail. He then took on any work he could find: as a farmer, waiter and cleaner, receiving 250 dollars a month. “I didn’t know how this money would be enough with a new baby born, rent, and other expenses.”
Then things started to change for Iyad. After an interview with a Canadian journalist he was offered a job with a humanitarian organisation. Soon after, he saw an advert for Aswat Faeela, a project run by International Alert together with the British Council and Search for Common Ground – Lebanon, which empowers young Lebanese, Jordanians and Syrians to become leaders and advocates for peace in their communities.
Iyad realised that this project and its objectives were what he was searching for. He applied and was proud to get accepted. Iyad received training which he now uses to empower young Jordanians and Syrian refugees.
Young Syrians have great potential; they are the ones who eventually will have to rebuild a country. However most are currently missing out on opportunities to build social skills and networks, and develop confidence. This is where Aswat Faeela steps in.
The project has changed the way Iyad works with others. It has taught him how to listen and gather information from the community and how to analyse social and economic problems they are facing, particularly those most vulnerable and marginalised. “It was an opportunity for us to hear their voices and for them to be part of the solution they seek.”
Being part of Aswat Faeela has also enabled him to find out more about his host community in Jordan, and the role they are playing in supporting the Syrian refugee crisis.
The project is a big opportunity for me as a young person and refugee to exercise my social role and to become an active decision-maker, and eventually make a change even if it’s small.