Kent State graduate volunteers at Syrian refugee camp


Hedinn Halldorsson

Aram with her father, Jaber (on the right) at Zataëari camp, Jordan. According to the UNHCR, 2200 Syrians crossed into Jordan on Thursday night and were taken to the Za’atri refugee camp, pushing the total number of Syrian refugees recorded by the UN refugee agency in the countries surrounding Syria to well above 200,000. Photo by Hedinn Halldorsson

Wezley Garlick

Every day, about 2,000 Syrian refugees enter Jordan. That’s more than the number of students who live in the Tri-Towers residence hall. One Kent State graduate is working with these refugees in hopes of creating a better life for them.

Will Harper works with the Save the Children organization at the Za’atri Refugee Camp in North Jordan, where more than 30,000 have taken refuge. Many of the refugees are traveling up to 47 miles from Syria to Jordan.

Harper works in child protection at the camp, which means he is responsible for a combination of social work and psychosocial support.

“We ensure that children without parents in the camp are safe and can access basic needs,” Harper said.

The war has ravaged Syria for the past 18 months. Harper said the chaos harshly affects families as well as children.

“The violence and suffering they have endured — coupled with the harsh conditions of the camp — are things that no one should have to go through, especially a child,” Harper said. “That is why Save the Children’s work here is so crucial.”

Chris Williams, associate professor in the Pan-African studies department, said the situation in Syria has many levels.

“The Syrian conflict is a very elaborate, very complex conflict,” Williams said. “The Sunni population is using this as an opportunity to emancipate themselves from the authoritarian government under President Bashar al-Assad and gain democracy like in Yemen or Tunisia. The wind of change is blowing all over the place and [the Sunni population] want to be part of it.”

Russia and China are behind al-Assad and his continued rule, while countries like Turkey, Israel and the United States are on the side of the rebels and democracy. But the United States has not formally entered the war in Syria.

Harper spends most of his days at the camp working with other social workers and trained program staff.

“Some days we focus on making sure a child has a safe place to sleep that night,” Harper said. “Other days we work with our staff to run programs to support the psychosocial needs of kids throughout the camp. Every day presents new challenges because the needs are so great.”

Harper said his continued work with Save the Children helps refugees get back to a normal life.

“Anytime we can help kids to get back into a routine, to be a kid again through our programs, it is amazing to see,” Harper said.

Contact Wezley Garlick at [email protected].