War Through a Child’s Eyes: U.S.-Jordan Partnership Delivers Assistance for Syrian Refugees

4 minutes read time
Caption: A painting by a Syrian child injured during the country’s civil war completed during an expressive art therapy class. (Photo courtesy of Stephen Petegorsky)
A painting by a Syrian child injured during the country’s civil war completed during an expressive art therapy class. (Photo courtesy Stephen Petegorsky)

War Through a Child’s Eyes: U.S.-Jordan Partnership Delivers Assistance for Syrian Refugees

These paintings are powerful, sometimes difficult to examine, and invoke uncomfortable feelings about mortality and death. But to the 380 Syrian refugee children taking part in the Wings of Peace program in Amman, Jordan, they are an avenue for working through the severe psychological trauma and suffering caused by war-related injuries from the Syrian civil war. This is one of several programs that the Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, working with The Polus Center for Social & Economic Development, a U.S.-based non-governmental organization and its Jordanian partner Asia Development Training, Inc. (ADT), is investing in to support the physical and emotional needs of children scarred by war.  

One of the 36 pictures included in the October 2017 London Truman Brewery exhibit cosponsored by Polus and the U.K. Sir Bobby Charlton Find A Better Way Foundation to bring awareness to the plight of war-wounded Syrian refugee kids. (Photo courtesy of Stephen Petegorsky)

In 2015 the Dorothea Haus Ross Foundation made it possible to further Polus’s work by creating the Wings of Peace initiative to address the psychological trauma experienced by these children. The children’s early paintings depicted mass graves, bombings, families attending funerals, and scenes of war. Over time, and with extensive counseling, children began to paint pictures that demonstrate hope for the future, peace, and the promise of a better life in Syria once the war ends. 

Over time the children begin to paint pictures of hope, revealing a depth of resilience, courage, and optimism for the future. (Photo courtesy Stephen Petegorsky)

Polus and ADT provide prosthetic rehabilitation and mobility services to war-wounded survivors in Jordan for both Jordanians and Syrians. By creating exclusive local partnerships, Polus also provides support to the Al Bader Center, the Al Hussein Center, Syria Without Borders, and the Al Salaam Center by distributing prosthetics and mobility devices to both adults and children including artificial limbs, wheelchairs, and braces. A significant component of the project includes training for refugees who have lost limbs to landmines on how to first heal themselves, and later become skilled rehabilitation professionals capable of helping others. Some of these technicians have already returned to Syria to provide prosthetic services to recently-injured war victims.

In addition, each of these centers houses victims of landmines and unexploded ordnance for several weeks, as fitting a prosthetic and orthotic device can be an arduous process. During this time, residents receive psychological counseling, physical therapy, and instruction on how to care for their new prosthetics.

Dramatic change is evidenced in the children’s expressive arts projects. Expressive art therapy allows recovery to begin through an alternate medium, allowing an inviting environment when children are in the beginning stages of the healing process. (Photo courtesy of Stephen Petegorsky)

Today, there are nearly 655,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan, with more than 33 percent under the age of 11 years. U.S. humanitarian funding in Jordan, now surpassing the $1 billion mark since the start of the Syria crisis, continues to support the 141,000 refugees from Syria living in camps, as well as the more than 500,000 non-camp refugees with cash assistance to meet basic needs such as rent, health care, food vouchers, and transportation. It supports efforts to enroll additional students in public school, psychosocial programs, and water and sanitation improvements that benefit both refugees from Syria and Jordanians. In addition, U.S. funding supports refugee registration, access to work opportunities, and protection programs based in communities.  

Since 1993 the United States has invested more than $2.8 billion in conventional weapons destruction programs, including survivor assistance, in more than 100 countries. As the world’s leading provider of financial and technical assistance for the clearance of explosive remnants of war, the United States looks forward to continued collaboration with our partners in the region.

About the Author: Natalie Wazir is the Program Manager for Conventional Weapons Destruction Programs in Jordan and Syria for the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs. 

Editor's Note: This entry also appears in the U.S. Department of State's publicaton on Medium.com.