This past Wednesday I went on one of my most memorable meetings at the refugee camps. Instead of meeting with the usual senior medical officers or medical staff, I had the opportunity to meet some of the most talented Palestinian youth.
After traveling about an hour and a half (much thanks to the constant rush hour in Jordan), we arrived at Zarqa Camp, the oldest camp in Jordan built to accommodate refugees who left Palestine in 1948. The camp houses over 20,000 registered refugees and is facing some major problems that include:
* Shelters need upgrading
* High unemployment rate
* Lack of sanitation labourers
* Sewage network needs upgrading
* Accumulation of refuse from construction
* Relocated refugees living in rented houses
We drove through a packed road that was filled with a mini-souq (marketplace) that some refugees had put together in front of the health clinic. I’ve seen mini-souqs set up in front of all of the health clinics I’ve gone to, which may be because the health clinic is so frequently visited by so many people that it’s seen as a hub of activity.
Eventually, we pulled into Zarqa Elementary School built in 2009 thanks to a donation by the US government.
Inside, Lama (16 years old), Shorouq (14), Ayah (16), and Ahmed (15) were waiting inside the school’s library with their parents and the director of the camps’ art program. What was so awesome about our meeting was that it was completely bilateral. We wanted their input on how to best convey messages about healthy living through art as much as they wanted to hear from us.
Basically, here’s the plan: UNRWA wants to improve its health education outreach efforts to the refugees. Currently, the health clinics see many people falling sick from the same illnesses (sore throats, the flu, and other communicable diseases) that can be prevented through improved health literacy. We also see a huge problem with chronic illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension, and the million side effects from smoking.
My supervisor and a Project Officer in the Relief and Social Services Department (Jeff, an Australian who along with his wife left the comfort of their home to volunteerwith the UN) thought it would be great to tap into some of the camp’s natural talent and insight…and I totally agree.
Lama, Shorouq, Ayah, and Ahmed are all extremely talented young artists who use their art to convey strong messages (from gender discrimination to patriotic messages, and now, to the importance of healthy living). The project would be a year-long one and one that Mr. Jeff would like to see reach into the art classes at schools where students would tackle the health issues that most plague their camps. The one issue the students we met with wanted to face first: smoking.
Earlier this summer, I posted a statistic that showed that 93% of kids had smoked a cigarette before the age of 14. Smoking is a HUGE problem, not just in the camps, but in Jordan in general. Everyone and their mother smokes (literally).
Now, I don’t want to get too off-topic, but sometimes (when I have nothing else to do) I turn on the TV to watch “The Doctors,” a “medical” talk show that basically makes you say, “I can’t believe they convinced me to wait until the commercial break just to hear that.”
Well, on one episode (that was actually worth watching) the main doctor (the one dressed in scrubs to convince us that right after the show he’ll be back performing surgery in the ER…oh and he’s also a Vandy Med grad) makes a surprise home visit to a family with a grandmother who smokes and a child who suffers from cystic fibrosis. Long story short, the doctor convinces the grandmother to quit smoking in order to prolong the life of her grandchild. I hope it sticks, but beyond that their story really made me realize how effective America’s war on cigarettes has been—just comparing the prevalence and social stigma of cigarettes now to the 90’s is remarkable. (note: it wasn’t really the doctor’s actions that convinced me how effective the campaign has been more than it was just realizing how unconventional such stories are becoming in the US)
Well (back on track), those students had the insight to know one of the most potent targets used against cigarettes: making cigarettes lose their glamor. Their goal is to create a series of drawings that will be used by UNRWA and its health centers as posters, in brochures, newsletters, and even online to get the word out against smoking.
UNRWA wants to start displaying their work in a “Ramadan Special” (which starts in August) and hopefully continue throughout the year with different topics. The students may even create special characters for their series! Meet UNRWA’s new superstars!