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Three life-changing days in a Syrian refugee camp


Authored by Mohsin Zaheer

As a Unilever Foundation Ambassador, I got the opportunity to see first hand how our partnership with Save the Children is helping refugees who have fled to Jordan from the civil war in Syria.

Zaatari refugee camp

About the author

Mohsin Zaheer

Mohsin Zaheer

Mohsin is Assistant Shopper Marketing Manager in Unilever Pakistan. His main responsibilities include making sure our brands are present in-store and in the correct order, with the right availability and visibility.

In the Zaatari refugee camp and host communities, support – provided by the Unilever Foundation through financial resources and communications (in addition to funds raised by our employees and employee appeals) – is helping Save the Children to run facilities such as kindergartens, activity centres for boys and girls, and community centres. These safe, welcoming spaces create a positive environment for children and their families to get together, to participate in activities and to regain some semblance of normality.

Here’s what I learnt during my trip.

Day 1: Zaatari refugee camp: a community built on hope

I didn’t quite know what to expect but I thought the camp would be a depressing place. That was far from the reality. Save the Children has used bright, vibrant colours everywhere to create a real sense of energy and hope.

Although we first saw the camp from a distance, its sheer size shocked me. The expanse of white tent roofs stretched as far as the eye could see. But the camp was well structured and organised with roads, recreation areas and even a marketplace. What surprised me most was the cleanliness – people are obviously taking pride in their new community.

There’s always time for a game of football

We visited a drop-in centre, kindergarten and activity centres, all run by Save the Children. The boys activity centre was the most fun. We took on the locals in a football match. There were two proper pitches with games going on and plenty of lively supporters. Football is a good way for these kids to be themselves and burn off some energy and frustration. They were clearly all having a great time.

Mums will always make a fuss at graduation

At the kindergarten the children were preparing for their graduation ceremony. This included practising a song and dance routine. Of course, we joined in! The innocence and energy gave me a lift and made me realise how we dwell too much on our own small problems. The children were not concerned about where they were; they were only thinking about getting ready for the ceremony.

The mothers also chipped in by making graduation hats. Their joy and pride was clear to see. And they had great things to say about all the teachers and volunteers, many of whom are refugees themselves.

Sign in a school in the refugee camp

Day 2: Children just want to have fun...

Our second day started with a visit to a centre in one of the host communities which was set up for both Jordanian and Syrian children and their families. We sat through a kindergarten class where they were learning the alphabet, colouring and enjoying a music lesson.

We then spent some time with older children who were studying mathematics. The students were learning times tables but, at that moment, seemed more interested in my spikey hair. I don’t think the teacher was too impressed!

It was great to see the kids in the playground. That’s when you realise, whatever is happening in their lives, children are pretty much the same everywhere. All they wanted to do was run around and have fun. It felt like these kids and the schools could be anywhere in the world.

Aerial shot of children around a desk in the shool in Lebanon

Day 3: Since returning home, I value the small things

The experience has completely changed my outlook on life. I now value the small things I have like running water, electricity and the right to move about without any limitations. I now regard my freedom as a privilege which I shall never take for granted.

Also, I feel that being positive is the key to being happy. If people who have been living in a refugee camp for four years can be positive and dream big, why should I be any different?

Save the Children is creating a bright future

Every day, thousands of Syrian people get food because of Save the Children’s great work. Every day, children come to the kindergartens because of the fun, safe atmosphere Save the Children have created. Teenage boys play football and girls engage in handicrafts thanks to the efforts of their coaching staff and volunteers. All of this is testament to the Save the Children’s incredible work.

Our partnership illustrates how we are helping Save the Children provide these essential services and support much-needed communication and awareness campaigns. Our response to crises such as this, and natural disasters, is essential to having a positive social impact on people’s lives that is at the heart of the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan. I’m just pleased to be have been a small part of it.

Find out more about Save the Children’s work.

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