A life marred by conflict and displacement threatened to overwhelm Jana – until she discovered soccer
On a patch of artificial grass in a far-flung corner of the Za’atari refugee camp, 13-year-old Jana* is bouncing up and down on her toes. She’s positioned in goal on a makeshift soccer pitch, watching intently as the ball passes from girl to girl ahead of her, her smile almost as wide as the goal she is guarding.
This scene was unimaginable just a few months ago. For Jana, growing up in Za’atari, the world’s largest camp for Syrian refugees, hasn’t been easy.
Set on a dusty, desolate plain in northern Jordan, Jana’s home is freezing in winter and oppressively hot in summer. Ragged tents and flimsy huts provide barely adequate shelter for over 80,000 men, women and children crammed into a compound they share with packs of stray dogs.
Jana’s mother, Amari* explains how the young family came to live in such a place. “We came to Za’atari in 2014, fleeing from Syria…there were bombs which injured my husband and hit our house, so we decided to flee and come to Jordan.”
“In Syria the children were crying all the time, they heard the violence and sensed people were dying around us, so we left. It’s a real story, we lived it, so we want to share it.”
However, Amiri maintains a stoic optimism, explaining, “So life here, I mean, I won’t hide, there are some difficulties, we suffered a lot… (but) there is no comparison between being under war, destruction, attack. And living here in Jordan is so safe, much safer than Syria.”
Trauma takes a heavy toll on a young girl
Despite the relative safety of Za’atari, the family’s traumatic flight from Syria to Jordan took a heavy toll on Jana. Amari says her daughter, “was isolated, introverted…she didn’t have friends, she didn’t have anyone. She was bullied at school…this made her lose her confidence, so she got isolated, stayed home.” Jana’s social anxiety escalated after she was attacked by stray dogs on her way to school.
Desperately worried about her daughter, Amari heard from a neighbour about the ‘Coaching for Life’ program run by Save the Children. The program gives girls in the camp an opportunity to play soccer and develop life skills along the way. Amari enrolled Jana the next day.
Learning to love life again, while learning to play soccer
“At the beginning…she didn’t want to go”, says Amari, “the first session was hard. She was gone for two hours, and I was worryingly waiting for her. I thought she wouldn’t like it and she would get bored and come home…I was surprised that she came home happy and delighted, her laugh was unbelievable. I asked her what happened at the club? Did you like it? She said yes mum I liked the club a lot. I liked the teachers, I liked the soccer game, she liked it a lot.”