Previous: Startling Facts About the Government that Made Me Feel Good
Next: The Politics of "Parks and Rec"



View count:387,586
Last sync:2023-05-03 20:15
In which John visits the Azraq refugee camp in northern Jordan and shares the experiences of two young Syrian sisters, 10-year-old Aida and 12-year-old Majeeda, who arrived at the camp that morning with their family. In the coming weeks, I'll share more stories from Syrian refugees living in Jordan, and delve deeper into UNHCR's work in Jordan.

Thanks to Rosianna Halse Rojas ( for her help with this video and the trip and everything else, and also to Howaida Abdoulahad for interpreting help once I got back home.

Please join me in signing on to this letter asking world leaders to prioritize nutrition funding and economic opportunities for girls and women worldwide:

For photos from my trip and more information about UNHCR, go to You can also sign up for their newsletter there for the latest updates from the UN Refugee Agency..

Subscribe to our newsletter!
And join the community at
Help transcribe videos -
John's twitter -
John's tumblr -
Hank's twitter -
Hank's tumblr -
Good morning Hank it's Tuesday. I'm just back from a trip to northern Jordan with UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, where I got to know a few of the 635,000 Syrian refugees currently living in Jordan. And in the coming weeks, I'll be sharing several of their stories. But as today is International Women's Day, I want to focus on these two girls. Twelve year old Majeeda and her ten year old sister, Aida.

Aida and Majeeda arrived at the Azraq Refugee Camp the day before I met them but before that they'd spent more than four months in limbo at the border. Their father, Abu Majed, described the situation there as "cold, hunger, and constant thirst". 

That morning they registered in the camp which involves everything from iris scans to identify them, to finding an available shelter. Try getting a four year old boy to stand still for an iris scan by the way. When I asked Aida and Majeeda's parents what the family's most urgent needs were they answered only that they wanted the kids to get into school. 

And this was a theme among almost every refugee I met. The day before in the Za'atari Refugee Camp, I had met with the Tiger Group, in which girls are mentored by young women. And when I asked the girls what they wanted most, Aryam and Farah both answered immediately: "To learn."

When I asked Nahid, a mother of young children who volunteers as a teacher, what she wants for her kids she said: "I want them to have a good education." Syria used to be a well educated nation but the civil war has changed that. Aida has never been to school. She was only five when the war began. Majeeda has also been out of school for many years.

When I later asked Aida what she wanted now that she was safe in the camp, she didn't say electricity or food or rest, she said: "We need to study." And while they will be able to study at the camp, it won't be easy. The schools are underfunded which means that classes only meet for half of each day and class sizes are often huge. There are sometimes over seventy-five students in a primary school classroom.  None the less, school will be welcome. I mean for the past four months these kids had to walk ten kilometers almost every day to find firewood at the border, and before that they had moved around Syria for years trying to stay safe.

When I asked Aida if she'd lost friends in the war, she smiled and nodded and started try to explain but then she began to cry. I felt terrible even for having asked the question but then again I want you to know. I want you to know that there should be another sister here. And yet I also want you to know that Aida and Majeeda have rich, complex lives that aren't mere tragedies. They're friendly and and warm kids and they smiled a lot, especially later in the day when I visited them in their shelter, a small but safe single room. They joked with each other and played with their little brothers. They taught me their favorite childhood game, a Syrian version of hide and seek. 

And when I asked Aida what message she would want to share with American children her age our interpreter Nida told me she said: "We just want to go to school. We just want to have a life." This is not such a big ask, of course, but it's hard to deliver.

The UN Refugee Agency remains critically underfunded and Syrian Refugees aren't legally allowed to work in Jordan where the unemployment rate was already high even before the crisis.  So education isn't the only challenge. I mean when I asked Nahid about the unique difficulties female refugees face she said "The first thing is that there's no electricity, so we have to wash clothes by hand."

Syrian refugees have seen the time needed for unpaid work, from cooking to cleaning, increase dramatically. And that work, as elsewhere in the world, is disproportionately done by women. Kids are often pulled from school to help with chores or find whatever paid work they can. That shortens the number of years of formal education kids receive and narrows their future career opportunities. And this is what people mean when they talk about a lost generation of Syrian youth. But of course they aren't lost because we know where they are. They are here in Azraq. They are waiting in desperate conditions on the border. They are in Germany, in Sweden, in Lebanon and Turkey. And most of all in Syria. And we must help them get the nutrition, shelter, and education they need to grow into a generation that will help rebuild their country.

Investing in girls like Aida and Majeeda isn't just good for them, it's vital for all of us. We can do this by supporting UNHCR in their critical and underfunded mission to support refugees around the world. But we also do it by acknowledging the full humanity of refugees. As Aida told me, we just want to have a life, but you can't have a life when the world doesn't accept that you're a person as valuable as any other, when the world treats you as "other" or "less than". We must fight that dehumanization, not least because to see the humanity in others is to glimpse it within ourselves.

Hank, I'll see you on Friday.