Daniel Zvereff: Zaatari Refugee Camp

Daniel Zvereff resides in Brooklyn, NY, where he works as a freelance photographer and illustrator. Early in his life Daniel developed a strong passion for skateboarding and travel. In 2007, while traveling in Thailand, he began documenting his experiences abroad by writing a travel journal that included detailed ink drawings and 35 mm photographs. The people he met became the co-authors of his journals and inseparable elements of his creative work. 

In 2011 the Arab Spring uprising that took place in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, empowered the people of Syria to take to the streets in a peaceful demonstration against Assad’s regime. Assad’s government responded with the torture, killing, and shooting of protesters. Shortly thereafter, the country fell into a brutal civil war. In the four years that have passed, the situation has grown incredibly morbid and vastly more complicated. At the moment, Syria’s territories are controlled by more than five different forces that include: the Syrian government, Kurdish forces, ISIS, al-Nusra Front, and more. All of these different groups are fighting for control over a country that is smaller than South Dakota. The Syrian people, caught in the middle of a bloody war, have few choices: stay and die, or leave and lose everything they have worked for their entire life.

Recently, news organizations began reporting the plight of Syrian refugees, as they have reached the doorstep of Europe. More than four million people have left their beloved homes – more than half of those being under 18 – losing everything to hopefully better their situation. Before refugees started making their way to Europe, they were rushing to neighboring countries. In Lebanon, they make up over a quarter of the entire population, living in tent cities. In Turkey there are over one million refuges, costing 1.5 billion dollars, and forcing the country to seek international support to what was once a guarded government responsibility.

Last year I gained access to the Zaatari Refugee camp located in Jordan near the Syrian border, to put on a skateboard workshop for the children in the camp, thanks to the help of the NGO ACTED and the organization Make Life Skate Life. The maximum capacity of the camp is 60,000, but the actual number of refugees is estimated at 80,000. The children who are too young to work, but old enough to run around on their own, have almost no outlets for exercise or creativity. The children of Zaatari responded with such a magnitude of excitement to the nine donated boards brought from Amman by Make Life Skate Life, that a year later, it still remains difficult to forget those few hours in the dusty basketball court. Unfortunately, at this point in time, there are no longer plans for a skatepark or skate program for the children in the Zaatari refugee camp. Although there was some talk about getting a program started last year, it seems to have completely dissipated.

In the western world skateboarding has historically been a male dominated activity. Yet, in the Middle East, the individualistic nature of the activity, along with the fact that it has only recently been introduced to the region, has resulted in it having no association in Islamic culture as a sport. This makes it absolutely perfect as an activity for girls, where in some countries they are not allowed to ride a bicycle, but can potentially get away with being on a skateboard. Organizations like Skateistan have had success with youth empowerment through skateboarding, girls especially, where the split is 60/40 male to female in engagement.

To help the refugee crisis please visit https://onetoday.google.com/page/refugeerelief to donate. Also please visit http://skateistan.org to stay updated with their work empowering children with skateboarding in Afghanistan, Cambodia, and South Africa. Please visit http://makelifeskatelife.org and support their efforts at building skateparks in developing countries all over the world, Currently they are crowd funding a park in Yangon.

– Daniel Zvereff

To learn more about Daniel and see more of his work, please visit his websiteFacebook, and Instagram.

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