Jerash Refugee Camp

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Middle East » Jordan » North » Jerash
October 24th 2011
Published: October 25th 2011EDIT THIS ENTRY

This morning we went to Jerash. Not to visit famous Roman ruins there but to tour the Refugee Camp there that may or may not contain 30 000 people. This number like all estimates of population in this region are imprecise and controversial.

The history of Refugee Camps in Jordan is not easy to summarize. It starts with the Arab view that Palestine includes what we know Israel. The Palestinians who left that area in two waves (1948 and 1967) did so believing they would return. In Jordan today they , and their descendants, number 3 million or about half of the people who live in that country. About 300 000 live in camps waiting to be told that they can go "home" . Some are Jordanian citizens , and some of those can work. Many are not, and cannot.

Because these camps are "temporary" they come with restrictions on construction. Dwellings cannot be more than one story have permanent roofs or be served by underground sanitation. The solution is tin roofs held down by concrete blocks and open trenches down the middle of the streets. The camps are open and look like part a very poor part of a city.

But when you visit the schools it doesn't seem all that different from other schools. It is a bit more crowded even at two shifts per day. The classrooms are a bit small and have a high student to teacher ratio but the children don't appear to be malnourished or even poorly dressed. When organized into RTP activities they participate with gusto and enthusiasm.

The game we witnessed today focused on the concept of littering. About 30 pre school girls were divided into two teams each on a line. Pretend garbage in the form of soft rubber balls was scattered in the pretend yard behind them. The girls were told to clean up the garbage and that throwing it in the neighbors yard was acceptable. When the whistle blew it looked like the start of a war . Each side heaved the sot balls over the head and into the yard of the other. It was all great fun.

When the whistle blew it was obvious that nothing had really changed. The back yards were still littered with garbage and this was brought out in a discussion. To reinforce the point the students were each given a banana . They quietly ate the banana then lined up in single file to discard the peel. It was an impressive display of obedience.

We then toured the camp. The adults reflected none of the enthusiasm of the children. They could have used the lesson on litter their kids had just received. There was a market but given the fact that almost no one has an outside job, the only conclusion is that support from the UN is keeping people from starving. It was hard not to feel sorry for those adults and for the children , knowing what awaited them after school. It made me realize just how important the RTP programs are.

Tonight we travel to Beirut to tour Camps in Lebanon. We have been warned they are worse.

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