The Syrian war resulted in the world’s biggest refugee crisis, reaching more than 6.5 million Syrian refugees. As of 2022, almost 44,000 Syrians found shelter in Azraq Refugee Camp which is home for those seeking safety across the border. As the Azraq Refugee Camp hosts tens of thousands of Syrian families, the crucial concept of solid waste management is rising to the surface and demands attention before it becomes a critical environmental problem.
Why waste management matters
Waste management is the basic pillar to a clean and healthy environment. In time, improper disposal of waste can turn into a hazardous problem that threatens the health and well-being of everyone living in the camp. Scattered waste is the auspicious environment for spreading bacteria and viruses, leading to soil contamination and water-borne illnesses most of which affect children. It is like the snowball effect, easy to begin but easy to stop.
To avert this from happening, World Vision took it upon itself to be one of the first humanitarian agencies to maintain the highest levels of sanitation and hygiene in Azraq Refugee Camp. Since its inception in 2016, the Solid Waste Management project has been providing a clean environment for the thousands of people and children living in the camp. The project aimed to raise awareness among Syrian refugees on the importance of the solid waste management concept. World Vision also saw the value of community engagement in the project. Therefore, more than a thousand volunteers from the camp attended in which they learned how to selectively and responsibly manage waste. The volunteers also conduct door-to-door awareness visits sharing what they learned. They talk to people about the importance of safe waste disposal and how they can make their contribution to society and be part of the change.
Hana’ was feeling depressed due to the sudden changes after leaving her home and life behind in Syria. After volunteering in the Waste Management project, she found passion and purpose in life. This opportunity was the light at the end of a dark tunnel she has been waiting for.
Tell us a little about yourself; what are the things you would like us to know?
Before coming to Azraq Camp, I used to be very active, I always found something to do. I later found myself in a new place and environment. All of the sudden changes turned me into a more introverted person. I ended up not leaving the caravan, spending all of my time there. My husband saw how isolated and withdrawn. He kept encouraging me to go out and socialise. I realised I had to adapt to the new situation and make the best of it. This is when I reached a point in my life where it was either “To be, or not to be,” I said to myself, I can choose to stay isolated, or I can choose to live my life and I chose to live my life, I chose to be. This decision helped me get out of the negative psychological state I was in. Slowly, I started to leave the shell I have created and break down the walls I have built. I began making friends with my neighbours. So, I chose to be the woman I used to be before productive, ambitious and make a positive difference wherever I go. I refuse to sit and waste precious time browsing through the phone. As a result, I started looking for jobs and volunteering opportunities to support the community I am part of.
What led you to the Solid Waste Management project and why did you register?
I would often see the World Vision Behaviour Change Component volunteers conducting door-to-door visits around the camp . One day, the volunteers came to my door, and they talked to me about how to safely dispose of waste and how to keep residents in the camp healthy. They were extremely polite, and they took their time to answer all of my questions because I had so many! However, I forgot to ask them one question that kept running through my mind the entire day. “Where does all of the waste go?” Therefore, I started doing my research and looking for the answer. But doing so only made me realise how much I wanted to be a part of it - I knew I wanted to conduct door-to-door visits and talk to people from the community. So as soon as I heard that they were receiving applications for volunteers, I applied without any doubt. I knew that this was what I wanted from the beginning; this is my chance to achieve something. This is when I started to feel like myself again.
After waste is collected by the waste management team, it is placed in World Vision’s Green Centre. Skilled and dedicated workers make sure that the waste is separated into solid and organic. After the separation, the workers press recyclable materials into cubes and store them to be sold. Unrecyclable materials are safely disposed of to ensure a healthy environment for everyone living in the camp.
How did this project impact you and your life?
It gave me a new perspective on life. Those who clean the streets are our people and we should help them. Without knowing it, we may put their health at risk when we throw something away irresponsibly. So, I started revisiting my previous actions thinking about how I used to dispose of waste, and I then made a promise to change my behaviour. I do not judge myself for the way I used to dispose of waste. I did not know back then the harm I could do. I started a new chapter, where I separate waste at home, hoping to make the job of people who handle waste easier and safer.
What are your responsibilities as a Solid Waste Management project volunteer?
I conduct awareness visits about waste management. This means I am responsible for spreading awareness about the ways to separate organic waste from solid waste and be more aware of the waste being produced. During my visits, I can finally conduct door-to-door visits showing people how to and where to dispose of waste. I show them the two barrels they can use: the green barrel which is for organic waste, and the blue barrel for solid waste. More recently, there has been a new addition to the barrels: the orange one, used for old books. This barrel was necessary to increase the number of recycled books and paper during school vacations. We used this opportunity to start a local initiative that raised awareness among children about the importance of recycling.
Another thing I shed light on during my visits is the serious health risks of incorrect waste disposal. I educate people about its effects; it can cause rashes infectious diseases, and respiratory illnesses that can easily be avoided if we correct our waste disposal habits.
The barrels Hana’ and the rest of Azraq Camp residents use to separate waste. There are three types of barrels - the blue barrel is for solid waste, the green one for organic waste and the newly-added orange barrel is used to separate papers, books and notebooks.
What challenges do you face when you conduct door-to-door visits as a volunteer?
Due to social and cultural norms women are usually hesitant to approach others, especially here in the camp. Here, women tend to be shy and I experience this with other colleagues while we conduct the visits. I encourage them and remind them of the more significant cause they are working towards: to have a safe and healthy environment for all of us. I set myself as an example, I overcame the negative feeling I first experienced when I arrived at the camp. I remind them of the power they hold and the purpose they can serve.
The volunteers that Hana’ frequently saw conducting door-to-door visiting in Azraq Camp. Their primary focus is to spread awareness about the importance of waste management and the risks of incorrect and irresponsible waste disposal on health and the environment.
How did you overcome these challenges?
I speak with kindness and address people I visit with respect. This will usually turn their reluctance to listen into a genuine desire to open up and take advice. I learned this myself while conducting the door-to-door visits. I knew that even in the most challenging situations, we needed to calm down and respond in a grounded manner. I remember one incident, we had a visit planned during our door-to-door visits, and the man we wanted to visit refused to listen to what we had to say and started screaming at us. We tried to explain ourselves calmly, that we are the Solid Waste Management volunteers, but had no success. We decided to move on with our visits and come back later. Upon our return, he was calm but did not want to learn about waste management. However, we managed to explain to him the importance of proper waste disposal and management. He informed us that he lets his children play with everything they get their hands on. After raising his awareness about the serious health risks his children are exposed to, he was grateful we came back and wanted to know more about the project.
What did you learn from this project?
This project taught me so much! I started with applying what I learned at home, I started doing selective waste management. I am currently using two bags - one for solid waste in which I added tins, cans, wood etc. The other is for organic materials, like leftovers, which can be used as fertiliser for the soil or food for chicken and hens.
Thanks to the Solid Waste Management project implemented by World Vision, residents at the Azraq Refugee camp can enjoy a clean and disease-free environment.
What are your hopes for the future?
I hope to create a clean environment for our children here. I want to continue to be a volunteer and make a difference in people’s lives. I want to teach children how to selectively dispose of waste at home and see them enjoy and play in a healthy environment. I hope to continue being part of this project and making a difference in people’s lives.
Hearing from Hana, a refugee Syrian woman in Azraq Camp
Hana’, is a 50 years old Syrian woman, who lives in Azraq Refugee Camp. Like many other Syrians, she did not wish to leave her country. But the unstable conditions, war and terror forced her to leave her beloved country. After making the difficult decision to leave Syria in 2013, she sought refuge in Azraq Refugee Camp. However, adapting to the new environment was easier said than done. Hana lost the spark and drive for the life she once had before becoming a refuge. With little to do in the camp, she felt like life had started to lose its glimmer and purpose. Hana knew she had more to give, she was adamant about claiming her drive and ambition. She heard about a volunteering opportunity in the camp, that referred to keeping the community a healthy and safe environment for all. It was the Solid Waste Management project, implemented by World Vision, in partnership with GIZ and funded by the European Union (EU Regional Trust Fund in response to the Syrian Crisis) and the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). After enrolling in the courses to become a door-to-door volunteer that teaches people about waste management, Hana felt thrilled because she finally has an opportunity to do something meaningful for the community she lives in. She believes that through this project, she could make a difference in the camp. Hana’ slowly started to see the bright side of life she missed for so long.
*Name has been changed to protect identity.
“This publication was created with the financial support of the European Union and the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development. Its contents are the sole responsibility of World Vision Syria Response and do not necessarily reflect the views of the EU or BMZ”.
Volunteers are part of the Solid Waste Management project implemented by World Vision and GIZ in the Azraq Refugee Camp and funded by the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). They conduct door-to-door awareness visits to educate people on the importance of waste management, separation and the risks of incorrect waste disposal. As the name suggests “Behaviour Change Component volunteers”, they work towards changing waste management related behaviours among Syrian residents in the camp.