Studio Syria has just finished a week at Zaatari Syrian Refugee Camp in Jordan. On the first day Jean took fresh flowers to the camp for a botanical illustration class. Here you can see Ziad with his painting.
A beautiful flower painting for his new bride of three weeks! What a lovely gift and a lovely painting.
Zaatari is located in a desert about five kilometres from the Syrian border. It is a bleak and dusty place where plants struggle to survive. Desolate.
Studio Syria partnered with American based IRD and Jean was hosted by wonderful Mays Abu Laila who translated, made art and made us feel welcome.
IRD employs a Syrian art teacher at the camp, Ismael, with whom we worked all week. We had the pleasure of visiting his house for lunch and meeting his family, including his youngest daughter Jo Jo who was making do with a stand in teddy bear while her preferred bear dried on the washing line. She is standing in front of the toilet area, screened for privacy by a blanket. After the family fled to Jordan two missiles destroyed their house. They showed me pictures on the phone. There is a brother missing for two years...in prison still...who knows?
The homes in Zaatari send their raw sewage into the street though the camp is currently digging a sewer system.
Camp residents are not allowed to build permanent structures so corrugated tin and tarps have to do.
There are shops in the camp lining the streets - and even restaurants. Most of the residents come from farming communities in Deraa and are missing their olive trees and fresh produce. Olives are available in the camp for purchase so that people can bottle them just like they used to back home.
Ismael, the IRD art teacher with whom it was a great pleasure to work with this week and see his kindness and patience with the children. He is a sculptor by trade but is now turning his hand to painting, drawing and teaching too.
Jean helps with a painting of a face which will be glazed with color later.
Faces tell many stories. These paintings will be colored once the brown and white paint dries.
We passed out our popular activity booklets along with markers and colored pencils.
Jean led oil painting classes in landscape.
The next day Jean led the class outside for a plein air painting class. It was such a beautiful day! And the clouds were behaving in a very picturesque way. We all had fun.
The peaceful setting was disturbed by a very loud backhoe. One of the artists made the most of the distraction by painting the machine.
The painting below shows the swing set and IRD flag.
This young guy's dad is the Syrian caretaker in the compound where we teach. He diligently helped us with bags and brought us cups of tea - all the while peeking shyly at the art activities. When we invited him to join us he said that of course this wasn't for him. But after everyone had left we persuaded him to paint a pink lily from life. And he did a beautiful painting.
Here it is - hung with pride on the wall where most of the students chose to put their work rather than taking it home. Our trailer became a kind of gallery.
As well as teaching art workshops with IRD Jean led a workshop with the International Rescue Committee who are caring for unaccompanied minors in the camp. These are children under 18 years old who seemingly have no immediate family or who crossed the border without them. We made some great art and had fun singing and eating snacks. It was a very moving afternoon.
One day in between art workshops in the art caravan Jean had a long conversation with a student. She wrote this afterward.
"This will be hard to write and hard to read. But if you are wondering why people are fleeing Syria and risking their lives... I had lunch with one of my art students yesterday at Zaatari Camp. She won't let me take her picture - I assumed out of modesty but now I suspect that she is afraid. She is from Homs and lives in the camp with her husband and four children including a baby born in the camp. We asked about her extended family and she told us how, one day in Syria, she and her husband left the house as they were warned that Assad's police were looking for them. She left her husband's whole family in the home, mother, father, brothers and sisters, nephews and a four year old niece. When they returned to the house they found that all had been executed. The little girl with a bullet in her head. The grandmother with a bullet in her heart. Punishment for what ever transgression my friend's husband had made against the government. They fled to across the border to Jordan. My friend's sisters fled with them and one became engaged to a boy back home in Syria. The day before the wedding he was killed by government forces.
My friend's husband is not coping well. Who could? He is having difficulty dealing with his grief and is lashing out at her. The camp is providing him with psychological counselling.
My friend sits painting with us every day with a smile on her face and great focus. I hope it is a small moment of pleasure for her.
This is a random conversation. I think that most of the people I meet in the camp have similar - or worse - tales to tell.
I know we are all swamped with tragic stories in the news but it is important to remember what these people are running from. They are certainly not "migrants" looking for a better economic situation. And the answer to the Syrian war is definitely NOT to buddy up to Assad in our panic over ISIS. All the people I meet in Zaatari are fleeing his brutal regime.
A rainbow in Zaatari seems symbolic.
The lesson in watercolor painting was well received but this artist added a symbol of the despair all the refugees feel- the young refugee boy who drowned while feeing with his family. They are fully aware of the news and the dangers facing families in boats on the Mediterranean - but they see few or no options. Three years is a long time to live in limbo.
Studio Syria would like to thank our partners International Relief and Development for making us feel so welcome in Zaatari Camp. The hard work and devotion of all the young members was inspiring.
Because Studio Syria keeps returning to the camp we are getting to know the residents a little. Jean bought some supplies in the US for a camp artist who could not find specialized inks in Jordan through his NGO contacts. When he received the gifts he began to cry. We tell this story to share how much the support of Studio Syria means to people trapped in a desert for three years. And how much your support means to Studio Syria. People in the camp need to be creative and to be educated. And above all else they need to know that the world has not forgotten them. Thank you for helping us to help them.