The garden grows in the desert refugee camp

Azraq refugee camp in Jordan. Photo: Taina Värri.
Azraq refugee camp in Jordan. Photo: Taina Värri.

The war in Syria already tires the aid donors around the world, but even more it exhausts the individuals that are placed inside the refugee camps.

Intended to be temporary, the camps in the northern part of Jordan may become permanent residential places. ‪‎Zaatri‬ camp, set up in 2012, already has its own government, security forces, hospitals, shops, and the “Champs-Élysées,” bumpy alley lined with vendors shacks. Inside their own fenced compounds various aid organizations offer training and different activities for the refugees.

Fenced camp, roughly three square kilometers altogether, holds 83 000 people living in primitive conditions. At ‪Azraq‬ refugee camp the people are not living in tents, but simple metal cabins.

Secluded location in the desert makes it almost impossible for the refugees to have contact with the outside world. The people who fled their homes, with nothing else but the clothes they were wearing, are totally at the mercy of external grants. The refugees are allowed to move outside the camps only through strict authorization process and for a valid reason. So, some Jordanians concerns about the refugees taking over their jobs in this case is not accurate.

Some Syrians – with an entrepreneurial soul – have already taken action, such as the Champs-Élysées stalls merchants, or that former plumber, who started the first bicycle driven pizza taxi in Zaatri.

The local newspaper ‪Jordan Times‬ columnist ‪‎YusufMansur‬ has proposed establishing a textile factory near the camp Zaatri. This would stop the ongoing Jordanian textile industry trickling to Egypt . The Syrians know-how in this field could be utilized.

Work and income would help the refugees to get their lives back in their own hands. This would also benefit the economy of Jordan, now struggling, because of the various refugee floods from neighboring countries that have been draining it for decades.

New beginnings. Photo: Taina Värri

New beginnings. Photo: Taina Värri

There are other options too. ‪FinnChurchAid‬ started an Agriculture and recycling project in Azraq camp in February. In the desert camp the soil donation from ‪Finland‬, a few flowers and two strawberrie plants were welcomed with tenderness and devotion. ‪Recycling‬ workshop turned plastic bottles into flower pots and baskets.

The Agriculture project was well received by the camp management. The Jordanian contractor operating at Azraq donated a proper ‪greenhouse‬ to the ‪‎FCA‬ compound, so that the future cucumbers, radishes, zucchinis and tomatoes will have a chance to survive the challenging climate of the Jordanian desert.

There is a plan to include vegetable and fruit processing and later selling the products at the camp marketplace. The volunteers tending the garden receive a small monetary compensation for their work. The physical and mental ‪#‎wellbeing‬ that the gardening provides is a huge bonus.

FCA ‪‎Middle East‬ Regional Office is now drawing up a concept note, which in the future hopefully helps other players in creating similar projects too.

Miltä kukka tuoksuu? Kuva: Taina Värri

What does a flower smell like? Photo: Taina Värri

The writer is  a Communications Specialist volunteering at Finn Church Aid’s office in Amman, Jordan.