UN Refugee Agency:
“I find origami indescribably interesting,” says the 26-year-old from Dara’a in southern Syria. “It allows you to make something from nothing, and for me it relieves my stress and releases all the negative energy. It is better than a stress ball.”
At the start of the Syrian conflict, Fadi, 26, was studying commerce and accounting at Tishreen University in the port city of Lattakia. It was here that one of his professors first introduced him to the ancient art of origami, or paper folding. But what began as a novel hobby back in Syria has since become an important part of his life in the camp.
Fadi is one of around 80,000 Syrians who currently call the bustling Za’atari camp home. In total, Jordan is host to 658,000 registered Syrian refugees, with the vast majority living in towns and cities across the kingdom.
Fadi was in his third year of university when the conflict forced him to abandon his studies. As the fighting moved closer to their home in Dara’a, and with his father working abroad, Fadi took the decision to move the family to Jordan in October 2013.
“I was responsible for 14 souls, mostly women and children,” says Fadi, referring to himself plus his nine younger siblings, mother, grandparents and his heavily pregnant wife. “I was so scared that one of them would be killed or hurt.”
They paid smugglers to drive them to the borders of Syria, Jordan and Iraq, where they were dropped off at 5 a.m. and told to walk through the desert towards a distant hill to reach Jordan. But after hours of walking in sweltering temperatures they were surrounded by wilderness, with no food and their water all gone.
Eventually they met some Bedouin herders who pointed them in the right direction, and they finally reached Jordan after more than 14 hours of walking. Once the Jordanian authorities picked them up, Fadi’s wife, who was seven months pregnant with twins, began to feel pain and was rushed to hospital.
“Our twins were stillborn,” says Fadi, simply. “After that we went to Za’atari, and life slowly started again.”
Fadi’s first priority after settling into the camp was to find work to help support his family. Having previously volunteered back in Syria at a centre for children with Down’s syndrome, he got a job as a classroom assistant on an informal education course for children run by NGO Relief International. The courses are held in the camp at a community centre funded by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency.
“It was then that I remembered the origami, and thought it would be something interesting and different to try with the kids,” Fadi says. The results were overwhelmingly positive, according to Fadi, particularly for those children with special needs or behavioural issues.
“The kids loved the fact that you can turn a piece of paper into something else – a bird, or a chair. It improves their concentration and their commitment. When I give them a project, they don’t get distracted or bored, they go for it until they are finished.”
“The biggest impact I’ve seen is with Miriam and Mohammed, two kids in the class with Down’s syndrome,” Fadi adds. “They used to have problems with their attention and aggression, but the change has been remarkable. Since they started origami last year they have something to focus their efforts on, and they are much calmer and happier as a result.”
As well as bringing enjoyment to his pupils, Fadi also credits his hobby with transforming his life in exile. “It has made me feel like an active member of the community here, and now people in the camp know who I am. It’s given me purpose as a refugee.”
Fadi describes the simple act of folding paper to make other objects as universal, understood by everyone who has ever made a paper plane, regardless of race or language. He dreams of one day teaching origami to refugee children in other parts of the world. “It’s something new, and I’ve seen how they respond to it. Origami breaks down barriers and gives kids hope.”
And a more somber story from 5 years ago:
What chance do paper birds have against tanks and guns and a ruthless determination cling onto power? Not much, of course, but the regime in Syria is apparently so scared of even this sort of symbolic resistance that it must be crushed.
by Talib K. Ibrahim - Radio Netherlands Worldwide
Two Syrian sisters are behind the paper bird protest – to be exact they are origami cranes – and those two sisters have now disappeared. Friends suspect that they have been tortured or worse. The sisters – who used the artist names "Cham and Jasmine" – had been leaving the colourful folded cranes at crossroads and street corners in the Syrian capital Damascus.
It was an artistic form of civil protest - based on the Japanese legend that whoever folds a thousand cranes will have their wishes come true. The names of people kidnapped by the regime in its fight against the popular revolt were written on the paper birds.
The sisters disappeared themselves on August 5 – Syrian security officials arrived in a car and took them to an unknown destination. Nothing has been heard from them since. Friends fear the worst:
“More than 77 days has elapsed since the arrest, which means they exceeded the period at which detainees should be transferred to the court. So why haven't they been transferred yet?” asks their friend Sami Shukri. From experience the friends and activists say that if detainees are not transferred to the court within this period then their lives are in danger.
A campaign has now been launched to try and secure the release of the activists. Volunteers are folding cranes with the names of the two sisters on them to demand their release.
”It’s a campaign based on folding origami cranes named after the two sisters, involving volunteers and groups. The wishes in legends may be a mere "myth", but in reality they carry the wish of Syrian liberation from tyranny, and freedom for all prisoners,” says Sami Shukri.
Human rights groups estimate that tens of thousands of people have disappeared in Syria – abducted by the army, security forces of pro-government militias.