Stories from Syria: meet Alia
Alia fled Syria with her family. Now she’s helping give children the chance of a childhood.
This World Humanitarian Day, there’s someone’s story I’d like to share.
Her name is Alia and she’s one of the Syrian volunteers working at the Azraq refugee camp in Jordan.
As well as being a mum of six – and overcoming huge challenges just to make it to the camp – she’s become a role model for the girls in her community, and acts as a voice for all the refugees she works with. This is her story.
Alia is 32 and has lived in Village 5 in the Azraq refugee camp for three years. She has six children, two girls and four boys, aged between just six months and nine years old.
Alia was six months pregnant when she and her family fled Syria. They made it to the border with Jordan, where they spent the next four months living in a tent. Some days, they didn’t even have water.
It was while they were here that Alia gave birth to her daughter, Judy. Then a sandstorm hit the area and – worried about the baby’s survival – the family headed for Jordan.
“We had nothing, only the few small bags we brought with us from home,” Alia says. “My clothes were covered in blood because I had only recently given birth.”
Amongst queues of people, a border guard spotted newborn Judy, completely covered in sand, and granted the family entrance to Jordan as a humanitarian emergency – and their life in Village 5 began.
Since 2018, Chelsea Football Club have been supporting our work with children growing up in Azraq.
Life in the Azraq refugee camp
Today, Alia leads a team of volunteers at Plan International’s centre in the Azraq camp.
“In Syria I was a primary school teacher. For four years I managed the school, and the role here is very similar,” she explains.
“We run play sessions, teach the children songs and organise competitions. We have music, art and handicrafts, English lessons, and we play sports – especially football!
“We have a small library where the children learn poetry and put on plays, and we teach young people about their rights – especially the girls, so they know nobody has the right to touch them and that they are in charge of their bodies.
“We also do outreach work in Village 5, to talk about what we are doing in the centre. We run life skills and parenting classes and put on programmes that people need in the camp. For example, the wife of one of the volunteers is a Zumba teacher!”
A chance to be children again
Since she started volunteering, Alia has seen a huge change in the children she works with.
“When they started the art club, the children drew or made war-related items – planes, bombs. They used to write sad stories about their journey to Jordan and almost always included death and destruction,” Alia says.
“But now they feel safe and secure, they are writing about their future hopes.
"They’ve started to draw much happier pictures and make sculptures, like the orange tree a 14-year-old boy remembered from his garden in Syria. It grew the sweetest and juiciest oranges. To capture the happy memory, we made it together.
“Some of the younger children have no memory of Syria, or they were born in the camp. They have never seen a tree, flowers, grass or birds. Recreating these things in our art sessions brings them to life until they can see the real thing.”
A lifeline in the camp
For Alia too, the centre has been a lifeline – at least until the time comes when she can return to Syria.
“Volunteering saved my life. I could not imagine life here without this centre and without coming here every day,” she says.
“My hope for the future is to go back to Syria and to normal life, and for my children to receive a good education.
"My mother is still in Syria. All my family are split across the world – I want us to be back together.”
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