It is not unusual to spot a supermodel on the Champs-Élysées, but this is not Paris. It is a busy market street with the same name in the Za’atari Refugee Camp in Jordan. And supermodel and activist Naomi Campbell is here for a different reason than fashion.
She is here to understand and witness first-hand the work Save the Children is doing with child refugees, who make up nearly 50 percent of the 80,000 refugees in the camp.
Campbell’s visit comes ahead of the six-year mark of the Syrian conflict on Mar. 15, which has now raged on longer than World War II. Her trip is part of a new partnership between Save the Children and Campbell’s charitable foundation, Fashion for Relief, which has been involved in raising money to help with several humanitarian situations over the last decade. The foundation was founded in 2005 to aid Hurricane Katrina victims and has since hosted events across the world to raise vital funds for Haiti in 2010, the Japanese earthquake and tsunami relief in 2011 and the Ebola crisis in 2016. This year’s event will be held in Cannes in May and all proceeds will go towards Save the Children and its Syria Crisis Appeal.
“It was a humbling experience,” said Campbell of visiting Za’atari. “I wasn’t quite sure what to expect as I traveled out there, but I came away full of hope for their future and with a renewed admiration for the positive spirit of humanity. That’s not to say we didn’t meet people who had been through terrible ordeals, it was just so impressive how well they were handling the situation. Save the Children’s team was fantastic, and all the work they are doing on the ground is really incredible. Everybody commits so much time and energy to making these people’s lives better.”
During Campbell’s trip, she visited a Save the Children-supported kindergarten where she saw children taking part in singing and dancing sessions. Playing music helps familiarize the children with loud noises – like the bombings and airstrikes they have experienced – in the hopes that they become less afraid and better able to cope with these deafening sounds.
One of the refugee children Campbell met with is Yara, 4, who wears a Mickey Mouse knit hat and happily finger paints with the supermodel. She stopped talking for two years because of the trauma she suffered living through the Syrian war. Now enrolled in Save the Children’s Sunshine Kindergarten and Early Learning Center, Yara is growing in confidence and has begun speaking again.
Campbell saw adolescents training in vocational skills as well, from barbering and hairdressing to tailoring and jewelry-making. This prepares the teenagers for working life once they turn 18 years of age. Campbell also spent time with 13-year-old Nida who lost her uncle to the war and had to flee Damascus when her local school was bombed. She talked of regularly witnessing dead bodies on the way to school.
Despite the challenging circumstances, Campbell was inspired by the resilience and strength of the children and families she met. Their positivity, aspirations and hopes for the future seem undented in the face of everything they have been through.
The six-year mark of the Syrian conflict coincides with the publication of Invisible Wounds, a major research project by Save the Children, which found widespread evidence of ‘toxic stress’ and mental health issues among children still living inside Syria. For the Invisible Wounds report, Save the Children and its Syrian partners interviewed more than 450 children, adolescents and adults inside Syria in the largest study of its kind conducted during the course of the conflict. It found that children are living in an almost constant state of fear, terrified by shelling, airstrikes and ongoing violence, with devastating psychological consequences.
For more information on Save the Children’s work on the Syrian crisis, go here. To donate to Save the Children’s Syrian Relief Fund, please visit Savethechildren.org/Syria or text SYRIA to 20222 donate $25.