Community Support Networks at Za’atari Refugee Camp Provide Leadership Opportunities

In Jordan, Za’atari Refugee Camp is a vibrant community of over 80,000 Syrian refugees, many of whom have lived there for more than 10 years. In that time, camp residents have found their roles in the community, conducting volunteer work with Blumont or other organizations, or joining activities that they’re passionate about.

Seventy Syrians who live in Za’atari Refugee Camp in Jordan are part of community support networks.

The Uplift program, funded by UNHCR, offers opportunities to formalize these community-based roles and encourage leadership within the camp community. Seventy residents are now part of “community support networks,” or affinity groups that focus on important issues while providing new ways to build skills and lead activities.

Mina Al-Hashimi, the Technical Team Lead for the Uplift program, said, “The community support networks serve as a stepping stone to promote volunteerism within the camp, empowering individuals to become agents of change.”

We supported the launch of these networks in 2022 and have expanded the program to seven groups: Sports and Recreation, Livelihoods, Social Support, Innovation and Digital Media, Art, Students Club, and Social Club.

Community support networks members learn valuable leadership skills from the Uplift team and apply them to their areas of focus.

Members learn directly from our experienced team, who have been working in Za’atari Camp for many years. They gain hands-on experience on how to identify community concerns and design new initiatives. Each experience is unique and geared towards the network members’ interests. While one group might brainstorm solutions for better student experiences, another could be marketing an exciting new product invented in the camp.

One of these volunteer leaders is Manal, who is a member of the Students Club network. An Arabic teacher and creative, Manar joined the group because he was inspired to share his experiences with the community, “especially with young students who need to be educated because of interruptions during the coronavirus,” he said.

As part of the network, he helps organize lessons, like creative writing, and even puppet theater shows.

“My feelings about this work cannot be described by some sentences or words,” Manal said. “I love and want to facilitate learning and even mastery among all members of society who are illiterate or vulnerable.”

Ammar, left, is a member of one of the community support networks that promotes the well-being of others.

Ammar, another camp resident, is equally dedicated to his work on the Social Support network. He fled his home in Syria in 2014 and knows the hardships his community faces. “When you’re a refugee, you know how much refugees are suffering,” said Ammar.

He and his teammates meet regularly to consider how they can support others in the camp. They partner with our team to check in on those who need extra help, whether they are assisting the elderly or children with special needs. Ammar is there to make sure everyone feels like a valued member of the Za’atari community.

Firas is part of the Innovation and Digital Media network, who work with technology to solve everyday problems and use media to benefit their community. He said, “I was inspired to join the community support network for two reasons: first, to change the stereotype about refugees, and second, to be an active and positive member of society.”

Firas is lifting others up through his digital media skills that he built with help from the Blumont-led Innovation Lab. He finds artists in the camp and helps them market their products and services online.

“The support we provide to the community is important because it combats unemployment and poverty and establishes job creation and financial resources for people,” he said.

Blumont provides capacity building training to the community support networks through the Uplift program.

As these support networks take root in the community, we are also providing opportunities for growth so members can expand on their roles. In March, our team led training sessions on topics including facilitation, codes of conduct, and diversity and inclusion.

As our team supports network members, they are supporting the future of their community. Firas said, “I participate in the committee to share my art and skills to enrich the committee’s work with ideas that contribute to finding innovative new and effective solutions,” he said.

Ammar’s work aligns with his hope for the future: “Reality can only be changed by determination, despite the great suffering in the reality we live through. Everything in life must be done for the future.”

Manar does not let his status as a refugee get in the way of his aspiration. “I do not make [my status] a great place in my thinking. I try to focus on hope and hard work to achieve my goals. I look to the future with optimism.”