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Story Publication logo March 28, 2016

Reporter's Notebook: The Children of Zaatari


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Social worker Stacey Volkman launches a girl into the air while playing with children along with Jennifer Nitschke-Thomas (left) and JoAnna Balza (right) Sunday, March 20, 2016 at the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan about 15 miles from the Syrian border. Image by Mark Hoffman. Jordan, 2016.

ZAATARI REFUGEE CAMP, Jordan—There is much time and little to do for the children of Zaatari.

True, there are schools. But afterwards they return to pre-fab homes, known here as caravans, on streets too narrow to play soccer on.

So it is remarkable to see how much they make of small things. Today there is a photographer hanging around the clinic; it is enough to send a group of young girls into a frenzy. Ranging in age from about 6 to 10 years old, the girls converge on the photographer shouting "Ani! Ani! Ani! Ani!" each pleading for a turn to stare through the lens and click a few frames.

They move on in a swarm, grabbing a notebook from one of the other strangers. They take turns writing letters of the alphabet and whispering in each others' ears.

When the members of the Wisconsin medical mission approach they jump up to give high fives. They play running and chasing games. One hides a small ring in the pocket of a stranger and the other girls try to guess where it is.

They never let up, not for a moment. When it is time for the members of the mission to leave in the bus that will take them away, a few of the girls sneak into the bus. Some even cling to the back of the bus as it slowly rumbles toward the gate that separates Zaatari from the outside world. The girls duck so that the driver cannot see them.

"Boukrah! Boukrah!" nurse Jennifer Nitschke-Thomas promises them.

Tomorrow. Tomorrow.


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