Best Social Action Initiative
Foundation for the Social Promotion of Culture
Ray of hope for Marwan
Author: Raquel Vidales
Foundation for the Social Promotion of Culture received the Fundación MAPFRE award for the Best Social Initiative for its program attending to disabled Syrians in the refugee camp at Zaatari (Jordan), one of the largest in the world, with more than 80,000 inhabitants. It is the only Spanish NGO among over 40 working there.
Marwan is a Syrian eight-year-old who was born with cerebral palsy. He lived with his family in his country until the outbreak of the war five years ago. He then became one of the almost five million Syrians who fled the violence and now barely subsist in exile: camps on inhospitable land, reception centers at closed borders… Marwan was lucky: together with his parents and siblings, he was admitted to the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, near the border with Syria. It is not a true home and the conditions are harsh, but, paradoxically, Marwan’s life has improved there. In that no-man’s-land, this boy has begun to walk.
Marwan has managed to take his first steps in the clinic providing assistance to the disabled which was installed by FPSC (Foundation for the Social Promotion of Culture) in Zaatari. It is the only Spanish NGO working in this refugee camp, one of the largest in the world, where more than 80,000 people live. Since 2013, this organization has rehabilitated over 2,000 refugees with disabilities there. Stories like Marwan’s are what has led to them warranting the Fundación MAPFRE prize for the best social action initiative.
Why a specific program for the disabled? “The percentage of disabilities among populations that have suffered a war is enormous. In Zaatari it reaches 15 percent. Due to bombs, malnutrition, violence. There are also many children like Marwan with cerebral palsy or spina bifida, diseases that have a higher incidence in an environment of violence, due to the limited health care women receive during their pregnancies,” explained Jumana Trad, president of the FPSC, during the Fundación MAPFRE award ceremony. They are the most vulnerable among the vulnerable. They therefore require even greater attention.
It was precisely to Marwan that Jumana Trad dedicated her acceptance speech on receiving the prize. “Your mother told us that you are increasingly happy to attend the clinic and this fills us with pride and makes our work worthwhile […] You are families like ours, engineers, builders, teachers, etc., and, with your dignity, you have made us understand that, in another place or scenario, this could likewise have happened to us,” said the president of the organization.
But the FPSC’s work in Zaatari not only consists in providing medical assistance to the disabled. “When working with this group, it is not just their physical rehabilitation that has to be dealt with. It’s also important to ensure their inclusion in the society in which they live, whatever it may be, so they do not feel rejected,” stressed Jumana Trad. For this reason, this NGO also runs integration activities.
Hamzed Hussein, a 22-year-old with a disability in his legs, is an example of what can be achieved with a simple theater workshop. “I didn’t mix with anyone in Syria, I had no friends. And people asked me: what are you studying for? I was depressed, without hope. The only person I trusted, my cousin Hussein, died in the war,” Hamzed recalls in a video broadcast by the FPSC. But everything has changed for him since he arrived at the Zaatari camp. He found a reason there to build up his hopes: “I now teach children with disabilities to sing, act and dance. I want to contribute to society. I no longer need help, I need to help.”
On June 22, 2016, on an impromptu stage in Zaatari, the Mark of Hope theater company presented the play Joy Shines Through, directed by Arabella Lawson, the person responsible for child protection and inclusion activities at the FPSC. Hamzed Hussein was one of its most active organizers.
Life behind razor-wire fences
After five years of war in Syria, around 59 percent of the population has had to leave home for fear of losing their lives. Some 4.8 million people fled the country to neighboring countries such as Jordan, Lebanon or Turkey. To accommodate such an avalanche, Jordan created the Zaatari refugee camp in July 2012, very near the border with Syria, and its population has not stopped growing ever since: there are 80,000 civilians registered, but the unofficial figures speak of a further 40,000 unregistered people. Last year Jordan opened a second camp, Azraq, as Zaatari was at saturation point.
Surrounded by razor wire, guarded by the Jordanian army, with no resources, without the right to work or buy a house or even drive, the refugees could not survive without the assistance provided by international organizations. There are 42 NGOs working in Zaatari. The only Spanish one, the FPSC, arrived in 2013 and, since then, has rehabilitated over 2,000 people with disabilities, distributed over a thousand wheelchairs, crutches, canes, walkers or therapeutic shoes, and has offered psychosocial care to the most vulnerable. The success of the program has led to the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) asking the FPSC to replicate it at the Azraq camp.