Mohammad paints on one of the shelters in Azraq refugee camp in Jordan. Photo: Amal Ma’ayeh

Home is where familiarity is: a Syrian brings art to a refugee camp

As a part of DRC’s efforts to make life in the Azrag Refugee Camp more bearable, a young father is now painting shelters in the camp, which generates an income for him and hope for others.


Mohammad believes that his talent is the only thing he can rely on after being forced to flee his home in Syria.

The 30-year-old fled to Jordan in early 2012 after it became too dangerous for him and his family to stay in their home town. At first, Mohammad and his wife were planning to fly to Lebanon to re-unite with his wife’s family, who had fled to Beirut in Lebanon. However, they decided to go to Jordan, and for the first two years, they lived in Al-Ramtha, a governorate located in the northern part of Jordan, some five kilometres from the Syrian border.

“The only reason that encouraged me to leave Syria was my family: I did not want them to live in fear”, he says.

The lifestyle and routine that the family had in Al-Ramtha town was comfortable: “everything was going according to plan, until one day, when our life completely changed”, Mohammad says. Similar to many of the more than 656,000 Syrian refugees registered in Jordan, the couple did not have possession of their civil and legal documents such as their birth and marriage certificates, and therefore they were moved to the Azraq Refugee Camp.

Life in a refugee camp

The 15 km2 stretch of land, which was opened in April 2014, is one of the two official camps hosting Syrian refugees in Jordan. It now houses more than 53,000 Syrian refugees. 58 % of them are children.

Compared to their life back in Syria and their home in Al-Ramtha, Mohammad explains how difficult it was to get used to living in a camp setting.

The father of three fears for the future of his children: all three are under the age of six and two were born in the camp. Until now, the desert and the white shelter is all they know. Mohammad tries to see the positive side of their situation and feels that perhaps it is a good challenge for his children to be living under such circumstances so they can develop the courage to face any obstacle in the future.

Mohammad continues to paint

Back in Syria, Mohammad took advantage of his talent and was able to make a living as a freelance painter. He worked in partnership with one of his close friends. “The best days were when we used to sit and work all night. I cannot find the right words to describe how beautiful those days were”, he explains, remembering the days back home.

It was a happy day when Mohammad heard about Danish Refugee Council’s (DRC) need for artists in the camp in Jordan. He rushed to talk to the officers to find out how he could participate in the project. “Painting gives me comfort, and I will do anything to keep painting”, he says.

The young man is now working with DRC as a paid volunteer, leading a camp beautification campaign.

Bringing back the crystal vase

Mohammed’s favourite motive used to be a crystal vase. He is still painting vases but not the same way: “It is similar to the one I am painting now, but I avoid painting it perfectly as it brings back memories of my partner who I lost in the war,” he says.

As the Syrian crisis enters its sixth year, the family hopes to return, however only when it is safe to do so. The camp population continues to grow and so does the challenges to meet immediate daily needs. Mohammad is grateful for the work opportunity he has, especially that he is able to generate some income to support his family.

DRC is currently considering the possibility of Mohammad teaching an art therapy class as part of its 2017 psychosocial programme.

About the Danish Refugee Council in Azraq camp

DRC has been operating in Azraq camp since February, 2016, focusing on skills development and livelihood activities. DRC opened the first Tamkeen Livelihood Centre in Azraq Village 6 in September of last year, where more than 150 beneficiaries have received training and participated in courses that will develop their skills and generate income. In 2017, DRC will provide day-care services for all individuals engaged in the livelihood activities to increase the participation of female refugees.

Furthermore, DRC plans to open a child friendly space as well as run structured psychosocial activities for Syrian refugees. These activities help support children and young adults like Mohammad deal with the trauma, which they have experienced and to give them a safe outlet to express themselves.

Outside the camps, DRC works in host communities with refugees to secure legal documentation such as birth and marriage certificates.