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Middle East: Training the Aid Workers of the Future

09 December 2015

Almost five years after fighting broke out in Syria, 4 million people have fled the country. In Jordan, where RedR’s Middle East operations are based, 630,000 Syrian refugees are registered with the United Nations.

Za’atari is a purpose-built refugee camp which lies 12km from the Syrian border. The camp was opened in July 2012 and since then, its population has grown exponentially. It is currently home to almost 80,000 people. 

Andy Boscoe of OxfamAndy Boscoe (left) manages Oxfam’s projects in the camp. "Initially, people in Za’atari were concerned about their basic needs, like shelter, water, and sanitation," he explains. "Three years later, living conditions in the camp have improved significantly. Tents have been replaced by prefabricated structures referred to as 'caravans'. Residents have access to clean drinking water and basic services. 

But while basic needs are being met, there is a growing sense of desperation about the future. For many of the people living in Za’atari, hope of a safe return to Syria has faded. Now, people are looking to the longer term. There has been an increase in demand for education, livelihoods and employment opportunities. They want to be able to make a decent life for themselves here - but that’s extremely hard to do. There’s a huge sense of frustration. 

With this in mind, the focus of Oxfam’s work has shifted from emergency response to more sustainable solutions. We are currently working on water and sanitation infrastructure in the camp: we are developing a water network, and a waste water network. By the end of the project, every household in the camp should have running water. We are also providing cash-based assistance via a cash-for-work programme, which enables refugees to choose what they will spend their money on according to their needs.

As the crisis becomes protracted, NGOs working in the region are increasingly aware that building local capacity is key to providing a response that goes beyond addressing basic needs. 

The humanitarian sector is very new in Jordan. For the first few years of the crisis, NGOs struggled to recruit older, more experienced and skilled staff in-country, and so the response relied heavily on international staff. This dynamic was not sustainable. Today, donors are less willing to fund the response to the Syrian crisis. And as funding decreases, so does the number of international staff here.

A lot of the people who work for NGOs here are young graduates who are new to professional life. They need support in things like project, people and budget management. And because they are just starting out in the sector, they also need to be trained in the basics of humanitarian principles and practice. These are people who may go on to have careers in the sector, either in their home countries or elsewhere: some of them may be future international staff. As such, we need to invest in them. 

On top of this, Za’atari is a unique context. There are 80,000 people living here, in what is essentially an urban environment. The social and cultural dynamics of the crisis are also very specific. So there is a need for tailored training that takes this context into account: in urban WASH, for example. This is where RedR has a real contribution to make."

To date, RedR has trained Oxfam staff working in Za'atari in Urban WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene). Currently, we are training eight members of Oxfam's staff under the Context scheme, in Management and Leadership, and in Core Humanitarian Standards. Meet some of them by clicking on the photos below.

This interview was conducted in Za’atari on Thursday 12th November 2015. Our thanks to the Oxfam team in Za’atari for facilitating our visit.

All photos © Ehab Othman for RedR (except ZG).

Our work in the Middle East is the subject of our Christmas campaign this year. If you would like to donate, please click here.


Context LogoContext is part of the Start Network's Talent Development project. The latter is one of fourteen projects in a portfolio funded by UK Aid (DFID).

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