This summer, I went to Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan with an initiative that I’m involved with called Project Turquoise. This trip went beyond my expectations in many ways. I was primarily amazed by the camp itself; it was not at all what I had expected, and not the way refugees are portrayed by the media. We often see dire scenes of hopelessness and sadness when depicting refugees, which may be a strategy for soliciting help, but from what I was blessed to see and experience, people in the refugee camps are full of energy and vitality. They have started new businesses, have dreams and goals, and are focused and driven. Most of them have smartphones, all have satellite TVs, and love watching movies. The media portrays the worst aspects not the best, and in my opinion not the right ones. These are a focused group of people and do not need to be pitied, but rather respected for what they have been able to create out of nothing.
Each morning, our group of 14 students and some chaperones would go by bus to Zaatari, about 90 minutes from Amman, Jordan. The day would start by working on language skills. We would write sentences about ourselves in Arabic, and our peers would write sentences about themselves in English; this helped us get to know each other better and learn about one another in a more memorable and interesting way. Zeyad, 17 and an amazing artist and soccer player, wrote “I’m not a crazy man, but my reality is different from yours.” I shared that my favorite soccer team is Manchester United. We then had planned to split up our days into different sections consisting of music, art, photography, science, and sports. While the girls section succeeded at following this plan, the guys ended up playing soccer most of the days, and we all had an amazing time and valued getting to know each other through soccer far more than anything else.
Each day we would split up into different teams and get right into it. Although there was an evident language barrier between us, when we got on the field it didn’t matter - we were laughing, joking, and playing like we had been friends for ages because we all loved the sport. On the way to the field each day we would all talk about our favorite teams and players and the entire bus could only talk about Cristiano Ronaldo and Real Madrid. One of my closest friends out of the group Zeyad wore his Real Madrid jersey every day and had a Ronaldo background on his phone, and would always pull up videos of his highlights for us to watch on the bus. It was small moments like making fun of each other’s teams that brought us closer together. At the end of the trip, when we were saying goodbye, Zeyad held up his soccer ball and said to me, “every time I look at this, I will remember you."