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:
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.
What happens when two 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. The film will tell the inspiring story of the two women, a New York-based marketing director, and a Jordanian designer, who founded and developed the center from its initial $200 budget and tent classrooms to its current beautiful campus and $650,000 annual budget that serves 400 students and their community. 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.
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:
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.