Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The World Through Children's Eyes

By Elizabeth Hall

My first impressions when I travel are always colors, sounds, smells and feelings, not what types of cars people drive, or if the “west” has found its way into the culture through globalization. I don’t notice how physically people seem “different” from where I come from. Instead I look at the brilliant colors of dyes in the fabric they place over their skin. I look at the way the sun shines its rays on mosques, temples and buildings so different from my own neighborhood. I listen for chaos. I hear the sounds of transportation- bicycle wheels turning against rusty chains, grinding on the rocky dirt roads, I hear rickshaws, buses; brakes squealing at the chaos of others crossing the road improperly. I smell dry earth. I smell lack of rain, or sometimes too much rain. And most importantly I feel. I look at the eyes of those who I encounter. I feel if they are sad or happy. I feel through their eyes if they are hungry, or lost. I feel their curiosity, and I give a look of curiosity back at the eyes that meet mine. Through my travels and research what always impacts me the most is what I learn from children. While it is not always easy to communicate with them due to language and time restraints, through their eyes I somehow understand their story.

On this trip, I was fortunate enough to grasp a glimpse of what children in Jordan feel on a daily basis. Through the eyes of Palestinian children, I felt an unknown distress. They have been taught that their lives were not meant to be lived in Jordan, and that they will go “home” someday. Until that day, they will live with a mentality to fight an unknown (to them) war. Through the eyes of Iraqi children, I felt an excitement for change. These kids are living in transition, most likely born in Iraq, growing up in Jordan, but having the expectation of going back to Iraq soon. I felt energy through the glimpses I stole. Through the eyes of a Bedouin child, I saw boredom and curiosity, little chance at an education, moving from place to place, the outside world brought to them through the lives of travelers visiting their tents.

Through the eyes of Jordanian children, I felt hope. Programs are being created for the youth in Jordan that promote activism and growth. Many are given a chance to emerge from their shells and speak out about the issues that concern them the most.

Several of the organizations we visited were focused on youth programs. For example at the Ecumenical Studies Center, Father Qais spoke about “liberating the illiterates” through programs focused on women’s cooperatives and youth groups. A few of the youth participants spoke to us directly about their own programs. They set their own agendas; they choose the issues that they feel are the most important for their age group to combat. While they may not reach large amounts of kids, they are creating a future for themselves. And while sometimes it takes baby steps and small groups to make a difference; it has the potential to create big changes down the road.

We also learned about INJAZ, which helps create economic opportunities for Jordanian youth through courses, job placement and volunteering ( And we were fortunate enough to visit the Princess Basma Youth Resource Centre, a part of the Jordanian Hashemite Fund for Human Development. We sat with youth at the centre and listened to the issues they face today, and heard about the programs they’ve created to work with their peers. Through after school programs that provide a safe haven off the streets, to a radio station run by the youth themselves, they are learning basic life skills and how to be active in their communities (

Of course there are other programs we didn’t visit that are helping children in Jordan. For example Save the Children has emergency programs for displaced Iraqi children, youth development programs, early childhood education and health programs. With over 60 percent of the population in Jordan is under the age of 24, it is imperative that programs of this magnitude continue and grow to fill the gaps of those who are not reached(

And while it is great that these youth are able to join some of these groups and really make a difference in their neighborhoods, ultimately the parents are the major influencers in a child’s life. The question is: what type of influence are the parents creating? Are they planting negative or positive energy into a child’s mind? Most likely this influence will direct the mentality of the children as they grow and form their own opinions about their lives. If the situations that the refugees face in their homelands are not solved soon, what will become of the future? Generations of refugees within the Palestinian community have faced the same outcome, over and over. They do not know what life is like to NOT be a refugee. They only know lives of lacking resources and support, and yet they chose to keep the mentality of a refugee because they refuse to know anything different.

As I re-read my journal from the trip, I find the same questions written down that are in my head right now. What do the refugee children think about their current situation? What are they taught about their family’s history? Do they have a negative connotation about their own lives? Or is it possible for them to be positive and have goals in life that will help them succeed in life. Lastly, what do they hope for in the future? I would be curious to see the results of interviews with both Palestinian refugees that were born in Jordan and now are grown up, as well as Iraqi and Palestinian youth. Instead I will go on, and continue to travel, and look into the eyes of those I meet to feel their story. I can only hope that the day I return to Jordan, I feel different stories, ones that have happier endings.

There was a reference on the trip to life being like a mosaic tile. I like to think a child’s life is mosaic. Every child needs a home, and they need a family with parents that encourage them in a positive manner. Children need food, water, creativity, nurturing, education, and laughter. Without these things, pieces of a child’s mosaic are missing and it fails to continue to grow and be complete. November 20th is the World Day of Prayer and Action for Children across the world. It is almost ironic that I write this just six days before, but fitting, for now I know I can do something to get involved ( I think it is important through local events, as well as when we travel, that we take time to sit with children of all backgrounds and feel their story.
Photo Credits: Elizabeth Hall

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