October 26, 2014

“When we first met the boys, there was a lot of tension between them. They displayed verbal and even physical abuse against their peers.” (Farid, Questscope Syrian Mentor in the Zaatari refugee camp)

Syrian refugee youth have experienced trauma that most of us could never imagine. When the Syrian war first started, many witnessed the death of a family member or the destruction of their home. Now, as refugees, they experience trauma of a different kind. Most haven’t attended school in over 2 years. They are isolated, so they cling to anyone and anything around them to feel connected and in control.

The immediate threat of the conflict is gone, but it has been replaced with a life of vacancy, often leading to anger, withdrawal and depression. Questscope’s assessments of Syrian refugee communities in Jordan in 2013 found that over 90 percent of parents reported that their children were more aggressive, displaying violent behavior. Refugee youth experiencing post-conflict trauma will find something to compensate for the emptiness and powerlessness they feel. The question is: what will that something be?

For them, safe and structured opportunities to engage in positive social interaction are critical. But with an overwhelming number of Syrian refugee youth, there is a severe lack of access to these opportunities. Often, they begin acting out.

In the spring, we saw incredible transformation when refugee youth in Zaatari were connected with positive mentoring relationships. They found heroes in our Syrian mentors and a safe place to express their feelings and build friendships.

“Throughout the course of the program, all of the boys in my group became one team,” said Farid, Questscope Syrian mentor in Zaatari. “They learned to appreciate differences and respect others.”

Syrian mentors are a key part of the program. Where before these youth had no one to hold onto, they now have a champion—someone who looks out for them and cares about them.

“Always, when I’m walking in the camp I have young boys coming up to me and saying hello,” said Farid. “One boy greeted me on the street and introduced me to his mother. ‘Who’s this?’ she asked. ‘This is my teacher from Questscope,’ he answered proudly.”

This month, 150 more Syrian youth have joined Questscope’s mentoring program in Zaatari. This is only just the beginning of new hope for them. They have found something to hold onto and a future they can look forward to.