LivedUpdates: Field Work

Our third LivedUpdate comes directly from our team on the field in and around the Zaatari refugee camp. Written by our Field Coordinator

Zaatari Refugee Camp © The Lived Zaatari Documentary Project

Zaatari Refugee Camp © The Lived Zaatari Documentary Project

It has been more than a week since our arrival in Jordan, and so much has been accomplished!

Our first few days were spent mostly in Amman, where we picked up our filming permit and contacted and organized meetings with a variety of organizations whose work relates to the Syrian refugee situation in Jordan. By contacting a variety of actors in the field- whether international, interfaith or grassroots organizations- we were hoping to gain on-the-ground insights and a nuanced understanding of the complexities of aid in this context and of the different approaches being taken in the field with the intention to help determine where our project should situate itself.

We also had the opportunity on our 2nd day in Jordan to go location scouting, and our first sight of the Zaatari refugee camp from a distance through the window of a car. It was a special moment for all of us. We talked for months about Zaatari while in Edinburgh, and we were finally able to see the extent of the camp and to put it into context with its surroundings through our own experiences. We took some B-rolls, and we drove until we found ourselves a few kilometers from the Syrian border. Exploring the environment and setting we are planning to document was very important to help inform our understanding of the situation and to help orient our project.

After these few days of settling in and building our network, we started meeting with the different organizations we contacted. These meetings have been extremely interesting and helped us to map out the current work and responses to the refugee situation in the country. Some organizations provide formal or informal education to the Syrian refugee children, others focus on humanitarian aid or on interfaith dialogue and research. These meetings have been mostly held in Amman, but we also met with an organization who runs a school for Syrian refugees in Mafraq and provides aid to thousands of families. We were invited to come along to a home visit to a Syrian family, shared many memorable moments with both the children and the parents, and learned a lot about their experiences as urban refugees in Mafraq. We have visited this family a second time since then, again resulting in a meaningful dialogue and a shared experience of companionship.

We also had the opportunity to visit the UNHCR refugee registration office in Amman, the largest refugee registration office in the world. Whilst registering mostly Syrian refugees, this office also welcomes Somalian, Sudanese and Iraqi refugees. We saw the main registration hall, the playground for children where families wait for their turn to register, and the interview rooms where iris scans are being taken. We established contact with one interesting family and learned a lot from their stories and experiences. 

And then came Thursday, the first day of our permit access to the Zaatari refugee camp. After registering at the police station near the base camp and getting a small debrief, we were welcomed at base camp by the UNHCR external relations officer, who kindly offered to drive us around inside the camp to provide an overview of the camp and relevant information before we moved on into the camp independently for our own purposes. We made a few stops, including one in a supermarket that is totally run by a Syrian family in the camp, demonstrating this sense of entrepreneurship that Syrians brought with them to Jordan that we had heard so much about from Jordanians. Afterwards, a few of us conducted an interview with the UNHCR external relations officer at base camp, while others went into the camp to explore and meet with families and residents, all done with the aim of gaining information and building a network to prepare ourselves for our following visits and for filming.

Finally, we ended the week with a visit to Zaatari village, for a ‘kids day’ organized by one NGO we met in our first few days, in collaboration with UNHCR. It was an opportunity to meet families in the Zaatari village and to learn more about the work done by this NGO. 

Our week of research and pre-production has been very busy, but extremely meaningful, and we are now more than prepared for our second week in Jordan and for the main filming days of the documentary.