Amid continual civil war in neighboring Syria and the threat of ISIS, the nation of Jordan has seen an influx of refugees fearing for their safety. Anywhere between 600,000 and 1.4 million refugees from Syria and Iraq have sought refuge in the neighboring country.

The Zaatari refugee camp is Jordan’s largest refugee camp and located just outside the capital of Amman. Nearly 82,000 refugees live in the camp and approximately half of the inhabitants are under 18 years old.

When one thinks of poverty and refugee aid, skateboarding is certainly not the first relief measure that comes to mind. But in December 2014, Jordan’s first skate park was opened in the center of the nation’s capital.

“We will be looking to work with NGOs to bring those refugees over to 7Hills in the foreseeable future so they can learn how to skate and find a bit of happiness,” says Philadelphia Skateboards founder Mohammed Zakaria.

The park, better known as “7Hills” was funded by a crowdsourcing campaign initiated by Zakaria and Make Life Skate Life, an international nonprofit organization that seeks to encourage skateboarding to underserved, poverty-stricken children. The $25,000 required to build the park was gathered in a matter of days and was constructed using an international volunteer workforce in less than three weeks.

With a self-proclaimed mission of aiding the “under-served refugee youth in Jordan,” the park encourages and provides an outlet for youth refugees in Jordan and aspiring Arab artists to express themselves and share their ideas. Awareness & Prevention Through Art (AptArt) is another organization that has helped support the park and ostensibly, the refugee youth culture that the park gathers.

AptArt hosts workshops on creating large scale public art for disadvantaged youth and refugees. The subject matter of the artwork focuses on healing and rehabilitation from regional trauma and conflict. The motivation for these efforts is to unite the youth affected by expressing and sharing common experiences.

The Collateral Repair Project (CPR) is a nonprofit that provides an additional outlet of rehabilitation for refugees. CPR sponsors and hosts weekly skateboard lessons for displaced youth interested in learning. They also work to provide free skateboards and safety equipment to anyone that wishes to learn but do not have money to purchase their own.

The fear of playing outside and being robbed of a normal childhood are tragic side effects of more conventional signs of poverty. What the 7Hills skatepark has done is to provide a place for refugee children and young adults to forget their fears and regain a sense of normalcy by sparking an interest in a growing communal activity.

“In Syria, I couldn’t go out and play because of the war, but in Amman, I can enjoy my time, stay out late and make new friends at the skatepark,” says Ahmed Rayen, a 9-year-old skateboard enthusiast.

Zakaria first began skating the streets of Amman in 2002, before skateboarding had become a commonly acceptable pastime in the country. He recalls early on receiving societal backlash and consternation. Not to be discouraged, Zakaria founded Philadelphia Skateboards in 2009 which was the first and currently the only Arabic skateboard company. In an effort to popularize the sport in the Arab world and abroad, the company has supported local up and coming Arab graphic artists by using their designs on the skateboard decks.

“We wanted the decks to have graphics that represent us in the Arab world in a way. So we naturally couldn’t work with non-Arab artists,” says Zakaria.

These efforts have certainly inspired a wave of Arab skateboarders as the company now sells in multiple Arabic countries including, Egypt, Tunisia, UAE and Lebanon. European ex-patriot skateboarders living in the Middle East have even begun to take notice of popularizing sales in Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. Zakaria states that sales to Europe have begun to grow as increased publicity about Arab skating has sparked an international interest in the brand as well as the 7Hills skatepark and its charitable efforts towards refugee kids.

Zakaria and his company Philadelphia Skateboards have become synonymous with the evolving skate culture that is burgeoning in the Middle East and in Jordan in particular.

“Many of our skaters, and the new kids we hope to bring into the park, come from broken homes or refugee families. We want to give them a healthy, free, accessible resource to enjoy life. Creating a place where underserved refugee youth can have free access to skateboarding…It’s been tough, but it’s been great to see people pitching in from around the world.”

The Borgen Project

Sources: Mondoweiss, Make Life Skate Life, Al Jazeera, Jackson Allers, Huffington Post, 7 Iber
Photo: Mondoweiss

The Syrian Civil War is forcing up to 3,000 people to seek refuge from the conflict every day. The Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan has absorbed 120,000 of these refugees, providing limited resources to those at the camp. Among the many needs of the camp’s residents is adequate maternal care for pregnant refugees. According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), “there are 10 to 13 births taking place every day in the Zaatari camp alone,” and the number of births is expected to “increase as the number of refugees in the camp increases.”

Muna Idris of the UNFPA estimates that by the end of the year, “there will be 1.2 million refugees in Jordan,” with 30,000 of those expected to be pregnant women. Syrian births in refugee camps are on the rise.

Currently, medical care at the Zaatari refugee camp is provided by professionals from Jordan, France, the United Arab Emirates, and other countries throughout the world. Health care is administered in “tent hospitals,” which are reportedly “better than those in parts of Syria hit hardest by more than two years of war,” demonstrating the extent of the deteriorated conditions in war-torn Syria. In the tent hospitals, medical professionals have access to “an oxygen machine, monitors for mother and baby, the hospital bed, a drip, [and] lights and medical instruments” for delivering through Caesarean sections. The camp only has one gynecologist and anesthesiologist who perform all of the deliveries , at times working 18 hour long days delivering as many as five babies a day.

Although healthcare providers work hard to ensure that both mother and baby are healthy through pregnancy and delivery, mothers dislike being away from family and their homeland with a newborn. Many women have fled from Syria to avoid the violence of civil war while their husbands remained at home “to deal with businesses, protect homes or even fight in the rebellion.” In addition to facing the challenge of taking care of a newborn on their own, many mothers are concerned about their baby’s future. Those born in a refugee camp are “registered as a refugee” without any citizenship. The hope is that in the future both mothers and their children can return back home to a Syria that is free from conflict.

Jordan Kline

Sources: UNICEF
Sources: ABC News

The Zaatari refugee camp near the border of Jordan and Syria has become Jordan’s fourth largest city as people flee from the violence of Syria’s ongoing civil war. The war, which has killed more than 70,000 people, is entering its third year and has displaced more than 3 million Syrians. Zaatari refugee camp is now the second biggest refugee camp in the world and is home to roughly 200,000 people. The camp has taken in about 1,500 people each day, but Jordanian officials worry that a continuous influx of people will put even more of a strain on their already shaky economy. The Jordanian Foreign Ministry estimates that one million Syrians have taken refuge in Jordan over the course of the war, and Jordan’s population hovers at only 6 million people.

Though Zaatari provides refuge from the violence in Syria, it is hardly a safe location for its residents. 75 percent of them are women and children, and United Nations workers admit that women are frequently attacked at night. The camp does offer medical care and schooling to its occupants, but its resources are scarce and most go without these services. Zaatari is only equipped to school 5,000 children, so most go without an education.

The U.N. has less than 30 percent of the funding it needs to keep Zaatari and other nearby camps running, and Jordan may soon be forced to close its borders if the number of refugees reaches the U.N.’s projection of three million refugees in 2013 alone.

According to U.N. High Commissioner of Refugees Antonio Guterres, the Syrian war is a severe threat to national security in the Middle East that could have profound international implications. While the U.S. has contributed $385 million to help Syrian refugees, offering more financial support than any other country, Guterres stresses that the U.S. and other powerful countries must contribute more if they wish to avoid one of the biggest humanitarian and national security crises of our time.

– Katie Bandera
Source: CBS News, Yahoo! News
Photo: Pulitzer Center