My brain and heart are full as I returned from one of the most remarkable experiences of my life.
I was able to spend a week at Za’atari Camp
in Jordan thanks to University of Washington Professor Karen Fisher
, who has been working with and studying how refugees gain access to information to improve their lives. Za'atari houses more than 80,000 Syrian refugees, more than 50,000 of them under the age of 18. I spent time in two of the camp’s five libraries, provided workshops on storytelling and early literacy with staff and a group of teenage girls, the aptly named T.I.G.E.R. girls (“These Inspired Girls Love Reading”), and provided storytelling to kids during the camp’s first “Top Chef” cooking contest.
Meeting the residents at Za’atari Camp was an inspiration. I met people, who before they were forced to leave their home country, were teachers, artists and IT professionals. Their circumstances are a reminder that the world can be a very fragile place and a very fine line can separate us from living a normal life. I also learned that in spite of living in aluminum caravans with just a few hours of electricity each day, in conditions most of us cannot imagine, there is resiliency, a hunger to learn and an enthusiasm for meeting new people. What unites us is so much more than what separates us.
I have so many memories from my brief time at Za’atari. Sharing my favorite stories, The Little Red Hen
, Where The Wild Things Are
and Mouse Tales,
with young children and their mothers, meeting artists who use canvas salvaged from the tents provided by the UN to paint the stories of their flight from Syria, life in the camp and their hopes for the future, getting to know the staff, some of whom are refugees themselves, all of these will stay with me. But most of what will stay with me are the smiles of children as we shared the magic of stories and libraries.