Since the beginning of Syria's civil war more than 2 million of it's citizens have fled to neighboring countries with more fleeing every day. In Jordan alone there are more than 550,000 Syrians, over half of them children. In January I travelled to Jordan as part of a team with Clowns Without Borders Ireland a voluntary humanitarian aid organisation "which performs and offers workshops for communities in Ireland and around the world that are under stress or in crisis due to disease, war or poverty." In their own words:
"We bring levity, contemporary clown and circus oriented performances and workshops into communities so that they can celebrate together and forget for a moment the tensions that darken their daily lives."
The atrocities and hardships that some children endure mean that anything lighthearted that comes their way is something they crave and look forward to, sometimes for months on end. You see it in their eyes as they dutifully line up to see a show and once the performance tent is opened, in how fast they run inside as if they are running for their lives.
The upheaval and disruption to their lives is ongoing even after they've managed to make it out of Syria. Zaatari refugee camp where I made most of the photographs featured here has a population currently of about 120,000 people. About 70,000 of them are children. When you're one in a crowd that large in the middle of a desert everything is fought for. Everything can be won and lost. I saw stand offs and thumps between kids that made me wince at the ferocity of it. It felt like everything and every gesture was occurring on a knife edge that could be flipped at any moment if it was perceived that ground won was being compromised. Then inside at a performance there were times when all tension or worry was gone like it was never there in the first place. Forgotten.
I thought of my young nieces at home, their mental and physical health in no way suffering. Their territory their own and not threatened or ravaged. I thought that nothing should be this hard for a child. Yet for the children of Syria it is. I felt for them and I felt for their parents. Parents like all good parents doing everything they could to protect their children and families, providing for them in the face of enormous challenges and adversity.
Yet despite the challenges I saw steadfast resilience. I saw people helping themselves and making the best of a dire situation in the hope that someday soon it would come to pass. I thought of how miles and a world away in Geneva the architects of negotiation had these people's lives, their future in the palms of their hands. It seemed absurd and wrong.
I am miles away again. The separation however has taken on a different aspect. Physically I am home but in mind I find myself there throughout a day. I still feel tiny soft hands in mine and see faces and smiles of little ones, mothers and fathers. I see Hanade, a 31 year old mother of 7 in district 4 of Zaatari bombed multiple times in her home before she finally left Damascus, telling me how she hoped I'd come see her again. I see Sufyan a father of 3 who'd been imprisoned by government forces and beaten for 60 days. It pained me to leave a place so full of pain because I could leave, go home and they could not. It is this, the plight of a refugee. I cannot forget. It is not for me or anyone to forget the human suffering of war. It is for us all to do what we can to alleviate it. Or better yet, stop it.
You can learn more and see more of the photos here.