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Documentary Film:

What happens when a small team of women decide to do something about the refugee crisis?

Students at the Azraq center standing in front of their campus.Azraq center students playing ball

The Project's Origin

Last March, Maeve McGuinness and Ronan Furuta had the opportunity to visit Jordan as a part of an undergraduate course at Champlain College. While we loved watching sunrises in the Wadi Rum, visiting mosques in Amman, and exploring the ancient ruins scattered across the country, the most impactful part of our trip was visiting the Azraq Education Center.

Based in Azraq, a tiny town on the outskirts of Jordan, the Azraq education center provides life changing education and services to Syrian refugee children who have been forced to flee their homes due to conflict. From the moment we stepped foot on their beautiful campus, the students flocked around us, wanting to show their state of the art classrooms and shaded play structures. We spent much longer than anticipated that day laughing with the kids and listening to the center’s staff enthusiastically describe the various programs and services they are able to provide for their community.

The center’s goal is to compensate for their students' lack of education and provide them skills to enable them to graduate, find jobs, and establish roots in Jordan. They are constantly innovating through a number of ways to achieve this goal. Some examples are:

  • Their certified Montessori preschool.
  • Their development of a hydroponic agriculture system to provide their own food.
  • Exchange programs with schools in the U.S. and other countries.
  • Coding programs.
  • Art therapy programs.
  • Hearing aides and physical therapy for students who have been injured during the war.
  • Test prep to enable their students to go to universities in Jordan.
  • Primarily hiring from the community they serve.
  • Providing food for their students’ families and the greater community.
  • Free medical consultations from visiting doctors.
  • 100% solar powered and recently renovated, state of the art campus with air conditioning.

In addition to being the only site of education available for refugee children, the Azraq center has become an economic engine for this small town, providing jobs and stimulating the local economy.

Perhaps most importantly however, is the first thing we noticed about the center: just how happy and full of joy their students are. These kids who have been forced to flee their homes and have experienced all of the trauma that fleeing from conflict induces, have been given an opportunity to be children once again. They have a space to run, play, and enjoy themselves.

We rode away from the center that day in an inspired silence. We knew we needed to do something to try to support this beautiful place.

The Film

What happens when a small team of women decide to do something about the Syrian refugee crisis?

This is the question we will answer with our 20 minute documentary, “Aljudhur” (roots in Arabic). The media is filled with stories othering refugees and creating narratives of fear. Instead, our documentary will highlight their humanness and how by being kind to one another we can lift each other up. This film explores what happens when women from a small Jordanian town near the Syrian border collaborate to create a vibrant refugee education center while simultaneously trying to navigate the contours of their own lives. How can they assure the center, which has become a hub of community development, remains sustainable in the future and balance their desire to see the center grow with their life aspirations beyond this project?  The film will show how just a few people were able to create such a huge, real-world impact. This documentary won’t just be an inspiring story of activism, it will also be a crucial story about refugees.

Azraq center students playing in front of their campus

The Workshop

Our second initiative to support the center is a narrative filmmaking workshop we will put on for the older students at the center. We’ve talked a lot with the center’s administration, and they have made clear the impact that enrichment programs and getting to see others’ passion has on their students. We chose to teach filmmaking not only because it is a powerful means of self expression, but because it is a highly technical and collaborative art form. In the session, we will go over the basics of filmmaking and narrative storytelling and by the end, the students will have conceived, shot, and edited their very own short films.

In each stage of filmmaking, we will touch upon a range of different skills:


  • The three act story structure
  • Different shot types and their impact on the viewer
  • How to shot list and storyboard your film
  • How to plan out shooting days


  • DSLR camera operation
  • Collaboration and role delineation on set
  • Basics of lighting and light modification with natural and practical lights
  • Basics of recording sync sound


  • Basics of editing with Davinci Resolve
  • File management and post production workflow
  • How to render and deliver

This collaborative, hands-on, and technical education is a great fit for the center as it aligns with their goals of providing an enriching and skill building education to their students. We are partnering with the Media Factory and Champlain’s School of Social Innovation to develop our curriculum for this workshop.

Azraq center students posing for a photo

The Team

Trees in a forest

Ronan Furuta


Ronan is a Degree Design Lab Major at Champlain College. He has been making documentary films for the past 8 years with films screened in festivals across the country. Currently, he is the editor and associate producer of a documentary film directed by Emmy-nominated filmmaker Kelly Nyks. The film is set to be nationally distributed in 2024. Kelly and Ronan are also collaborating on piloting other documentary series and features. Previously, Ronan taught at and developed curriculum for a wilderness primitive skills school for five years. He coordinated and trained a team of 20 instructors and advised them on their curriculum. This work has provided him with experience teaching hands-on skills (like filmmaking) and working with students of all ages.  When not in the studio, Ronan loves going on long hikes with his camera. You can view his portfolio at
Trees in a forest

Maeve McGuinness


Maeve McGuinness has been a Resident Advisor at Champlain College for the past 3 years, two of which she served as the Lead Resident Advisor of her area. Maeve spent her time in college studying Graphic Design, where she enjoyed cultivating rapport with her professors as well as developing her design sensibilities. These design sensibilities will offer important compositional knowledge within the scope of creating a documentary film with a strong aesthetic draw.  Additionally, Maeve coordinated the Roots for Refugees pop-up dinner last spring. She worked with our team of five to host a dinner serving over sixty individuals and raised over $2400 for the Azraq Education fund. As a coordinator of this event, she was able to refine her skills in budgeting, team building, and outreach.

Dr. Cynthia Brandenburg

Faculty Advisor

Cyndi was trained as a neuroscientist, but currently teaches an array of integrated and inquiry-based courses that are arguably quite different from her more traditional academic roots. She is particularly interested in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in general, and Interdisciplinarity and Integration in particular, with an eye towards fusing such seemingly disparate fields as the Sciences and the Humanities.  Cyndi is a Professor in Champlain College's Core Division, Lead Faculty for the Degree Design Lab, and  serves as the Assistant Provost.  In that role, she works to support curricular innovations that are interdisciplinary, customizable, and predicated on experiential and project-based learning.

Dr. Michael Kelly

Faculty Advisor

Mike is a recovering English professor turned interdisciplinarian whose teaching and scholarship centers on the application of integrative thinking to better understand the ways systems and structures shape the larger world.  He holds the rank of Professor in the Core Division and Champlain College and is a lead faculty in the school’s Degree Design Lab- a degree program that allows students to customize their academic and  professional interests in ways that prepare them for the cross-cutting skills necessary for an uncertain future  of work.

Dr. Gary Scudder

Faculty Advisor

Gary Scudder, a Professor of History in the Core Division, is approaching his twenty-fifth year at Champlain College - and his twentieth year visiting Jordan. Since initially spending time in Jordan on a State Department funded CIEE educational experience, he has returned multiple times (too many to count, apparently), leading five student trips which traversed the country, and making the University of Jordan a foundational member in Champlain's award-winning Global Modules program. While a historian by training, he now, in Champlain's interdisciplinary curriculum, mainly teaches classes on Islam, literature, and film. In addition, Dr. Scudder was recognized as the Vermont Professor of the Year in 2010.

Kelly Nyks

Film Industry Advisor

Kelly Nyks is an Emmy-nominated filmmaker and NY Times best selling writer who has worked across the Americas, Europe, Africa, the Arctic and Asia on films which investigate some of the most critical issues of our time including climate change, social inequality and institutionalized injustice. Feature titles include REQUIEM FOR THE AMERICAN DREAM, THE AGE OF CONSEQUENCES, DISRUPTION, DO THE MATH, DISOBEDIENCE, SPLIT: A DIVIDED AMERICA and SPLIT: A DEEPER DIVIDE, which have aired in over 50 countries on over 20 broadcasters including Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, IFC, PBS, and Starz. They have enjoyed both critical acclaim and audience favorite awards at marquee festivals worldwide including Sundance, Tribeca, IDFA, HotDocs, Sheffield, AFI Docs, CPHDOX, DOC NYC. A US State Department Cultural Ambassador, he recently served as Artist in Residence in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University.

The Media Factory

Camera Equipment Rentals

The Media Factory, formerly Vermont Community Access Media (VCAM) and the Regional Educational Television Network (RETN), is a community of media makers who work in tv, film, radio, and more. The Media Factory provides community members access to the tools, training, space, and distribution necessary for them to create and share their stories. Through their community equipment rental program, the Media Factory has graciously agreed to lend some of the production equipment necessary to shoot this film.
Champlain student playing with Azraq Center students on a slide
Light rays through the clouds in the Wadi Rum

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