By Mackenzie Roche
Beyond the Classroom presented a documentary Sept. 28 to educate students about the realities of the Syrian refugee crisis and instigate discussion about relief efforts and the consequences of immigration bans.
About 15 students in the Beyond the Classroom group, a living-learning program that encourages civic engagement and leadership and prepares students to be global citizens, gathered in South Campus Commons to watch the documentary, titled “After Spring.”
“After Spring” put human faces to the Syrian refugee crisis as it followed two families throughout their experiences at Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan. Zaatari is home to 80,000 Syrian refugees — more than half of whom are under 18.
“I feel like I am only here physically, but mentally and spiritually in Syria,” Abu Ibrahim, a Zaatari citizen who fled Syria with his wife and young children, said in the film. He and his family tried to make the best of their new life in the refugee camp but never stopped longing for their home country and the happiness they had known there.
“It was interesting to see the similarities and differences between [this documentary] and the movies we’ve watched in the past weeks about other refugee camps in Africa,” said Charlie Rogers, a senior history major and Beyond the Classroom member. Rogers said he hasn’t been directly involved in the Syrian refugee cause, but he hopes to work with Syrian refugee advocacy groups on and off campus.
Zaatari is largely supported by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the World Food Programme, but they always risk running low on food and supplies as showcased in the film. The film’s central figures stressed the need for food and supplies donations as well as awareness campaigns.
In the middle of the film, Zaatari citizens gathered with excitement as two caravans were delivered to the camp. American students had fundraised for 16 months to create these caravans and have them delivered to the refugees.
Similarly, senior graphic design major Nursena Acar said she is passionate about helping refugees. She began a group on campus called UMD Supporting Syrian Refugees because she wanted to combine her design skills with a social cause she supported. She had the idea to design and sell a t-shirt and donate the proceeds to refugees.
To complete the project, she said she chose to pair with Bridge to Turkiye Fund, which helps Syrian refugees with education, women empowerment and basic needs. The group also paired with Organization for Arab Students and Enactus.
“Students can join causes such as this one, or help in other ways, through volunteering abroad or locally,” Acar said. “BTF also accepts donations and 100% of their proceeds goes to the cause.”
Conditions in Syria have only worsened over the years, and the families in the film who had planned to return home are still at Zaatari. No one knows what the future of the war holds, and the people in the film explained the need for intervention in Syria to stop the mass killings.
“There is no clear future, and the situation has not improved,” Beyond the Classroom Director James Riker said at the documentary screening. “It’s a dire circumstance and one in which there is very little hope.”
To conclude the group session, Riker took time to explain how the Syrian refugee crisis has affected Americans. He discussed President Donald Trump’s travel ban on Syrians and said Trump’s limit on refugees — 45,000 — is the lowest immigration acceptance amount since 1980.
Riker also criticized the United States’ efforts to pull funding from the WFP and other organizations that help refugees.
“We used to be one of the top funders,” Riker said. “Now we need to fill the void.”
Riker’s final point, though, was one he said he hoped resonated with his students. He described the many Syrian children who would gladly trade places with college students, but do not have the same opportunities. He encouraged the Beyond the Classroom students to learn as much as they can throughout college and use it to change the world.