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The garden grows in the desert refugee camp

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The war in Syria is already tiring the aid donors around the world, but 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 the permanent residence of refugees there. ‪Zaatari‬ 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 organisations offer training and different activities for the refugees.

The fenced camp, roughly three square kilometres altogether, holds 83,000 people living in primitive conditions. At ‪Azraq‬ refugee camp the people are not living in tents, but simple metal cabins. Electricity is still a work in progress, so the residents have lately been receiving solar-powered lamps, donated by Taiwan.

The 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 a strict authorizsation process and for a valid reason. Some Jordanians are worried about the refugees taking over their jobs if these controls are not kept in place.

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

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

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.

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 strawberry plants were welcomed with tenderness and devotion. A ‪#‎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 of surviving 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 ‪#‎MiddleEast‬ Regional Office is now drawing up a concept note, which in the future hopefully helps other players in creating similar projects too.

The writer, Taina Värri, is a Communications Specialist volunteering at Finn Church Aid’s office in Amman, Jordan. This article first appeared on the FCA website.