Today is our 22nd day living in a refugee camp.

We are Chris Temple and Zach Ingrasci, co-founders of the non-profit media production studio Living on One and directors of the documentary Living on One Dollar. For our new Salam Neighbor project, we have teamed up with 1001 MEDIA to produce a documentary about the Syrian refugee crisis. For the past month, we have been living alongside Syrian refugee families in the Za'atari refugee camp in Jordan. Ask us anything!

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Edit: Thank you so much for all the great questions! We will be traveling back to the USA on Saturday and focusing on getting the documentary film together. It has been an incredible journey so far and we can't wait to share it with you. If you have any other questions, please check out our website (

Comments: 78 • Responses: 23  • Date: 

duck1217 karma

What's been the most challenging part of living in the camp for you?

Livingonone9 karma

By far the most challenging aspect of living in the camp is hearing the trauma our neighbors have gone through. It is heart wrenching, we never know what to say and there is no way we will ever be able to share their burden... it is so important that people have creative outlets here in the camp to deal with this trauma. School, art, music and cooking have been some of the most powerful outlets we have seen.

temple_ian3 karma

are there organized ways to engage in those creative outlets? Do most kids go to school for example? What do "extracurricular" activities look like in te camp?

Livingonone5 karma

Yes definitely some organized creative outlets. There are 3 schools in the camp, and two more in the works. Also 19 child friendly spaces and a few multi-purpose activity centers (gym, soccer field, playground). School just started today actually, so we'll know more about it when we visit on Thursday.

In terms of other creative outlets though, we met a refugee here who started a library in coordination with the IRD. There is also a "Youth Center" that has a choir, small band, poetry readings, and some performance arts.

The hardest thing with these though honestly is that they are only open while the aid organizations are here. Like 9-3 in a lot of cases. So if this crisis continues, how do you start phasing in Syrian ownership/responsibility over the spaces?

elibrahm3 karma

How bad are the living conditions? Also are there any inspiring stories that you can tell us?

Livingonone9 karma

The living conditions here are actually much better than we expected. The majority of people have been moved to caravans instead of tents and no one is hungry in the camp. But at the same time it isn't "home" and life here isn't easy. The camp is in the middle of the desert so the climate can be extreme.

The biggest hardships are psychological. Leaving everything they once knew behind and arriving to the camp with only their clothes on their back has taken a huge toll on many people. Many people arrived traumatized from past experiences and feel isolated in their tents and caravans.

However, we have never met people more resilient! Even in the face of unimaginable hardship we have met the most inspiring people. One of our neighbors lost her son in Syria and fell into a deep depression. She was so overwhelmed with her emotions she wrote over the entire inside of her caravan.

Luckily she found a women's center run by the IRC in the camp where she received counseling. She was eventually hired as a volunteer and has made it her life mission to rescue women in her own situation from their isolation and grief.

Please note that while no one is hungry in Za'atari itself, this is not the case for millions in need inside of Syria, surrounding countries and even outside of the camp in Jordan. This is the largest refugee crisis the world has seen in the last 20 years.

temple_ian1 karma

Any sense of how it differs from the Iraqi refugee crisis a few years ago?

Livingonone2 karma

We don't know too much about the Iraqi refugee crisis but will definitely ask UNHCR! Great question.

karmanaut3 karma

Do most people expect to return home someday, or do they see themselves settling permanently in Jordan?

How are they treated by Palestinian refugees?

Livingonone12 karma

We have now met countless Syrians here in the refugee camp and every single one of them has told us that their single biggest wish is to return home. Many of our neighbors here had similar lives to us in the U.S. They miss their houses, jobs and communities. At the same time, they have shown us many photos of their homes destroyed in the conflict. For most people there will be very little to return home to.

Because of the prolonged nature of the conflict people have done their best to create a feeling of home in Za’atari. You would be amazed by what we have seen in the camp. Massive fountains, indoor plumbing, TVs, and even gardens.

Livingonone8 karma

Most of the aid workers in the camp are Jordanian (many of whom have Palestinian roots since 50% of Jordan's population is Palestinian or have Palestinian heritage). Many of the workers can empathize deeply with the Syrian situation given their backgrounds as refugees themselves. Jordan has been incredibly welcoming to refugees throughout history... Palestinians refugees, Iraqi refugees etc.

choboy4563 karma

While there is usually a lot of focus on the negative aspects, and rightfully so, what is the most heartwarming thing you have seen?

Livingonone6 karma

There is a little 6 year old girl who lost her left leg inside of Syria. We spent one afternoon getting to know Safa and her identical twin sister Marwa. When we walked into her caravan, Safa was sitting at the window watching the other kids play. She was shy and at first didn't open up but once Zach broke out his notebook and colored pencils her entire persona changed. Zach drew the outlines of pictures and the two girls colored for over 2 hours! During the drawing session we learned a lot about her... the most heartwarming moment was when she described her sister helping push her wheelchair during recess at the local kindergarden.

Life for these children is not normal but they surprise us everyday with their incredible capacity to love and play.

adaylikethis3 karma

What do you miss most? What do the refugees miss most?

Livingonone5 karma

We miss having a warm shower. Showering in a tent is pretty brutal and Chris definitely doesn't do it enough... but we have a home and shower waiting for us in Los Angeles. Our neighbors don't have a home to go back to and that is what they miss most.

bugpoker3 karma

What two personal items did you bring?

Livingonone3 karma

Sean brought a deck of cards. Zach brought colored pencils. Chris brought a soccer ball. Ibraheem brought a photo of his family... these have all been incredible ice breakers when getting to know our friends here.

inisu3 karma

How do people react to being filmed/having a documentary being made about them?

Livingonone5 karma

It’s been harder to film here than anywhere we’ve ever experienced. First, it’s not culturally sensitive to film women, especially in public. Second, many people have family back in Syria so don’t want to be on camera for fear of endangering their loved ones. Third, so many journalists have come and gone, and people don’t trust them. We knew this coming in, so wanted to take enough time to build actual relationships with people before sticking cameras in their faces.

tobiasfunke83 karma

Have you seen any forms of informal governance within the Syrian refugee camp? How are internal disputes among refugees being resolved?

Livingonone3 karma

Yes and this was a huge surprise. The influx of refugees was so large when the camp first started that the aid organizations were scrambling to get everything set up. At it’s peak in early 2013, there were up to 4,500 new refugees in a single day, who needed to be registered, given tents, food, medical attention, etc.

As a result, a defacto leadership was created, known as “street leaders” or “Abus”. They were self-appointed. They tend to be more influential or just plain louder than the others. The camp is split into 12 districts, with several “Abus” in each, and then roughly 10 “Super Abus”.

In other UNHCR camps around the world though, there are democratically elected leaders for both men and women. The plan is to have that here soon as well.

In terms of internal disputes, they’re mostly resolved by the refugees themselves. Larger issues are done in consultation with the UNHCR and Jordanian authorities.

reddaman43 karma

I have recently been reading about Pakistans involvement in helping the Taliban come to power and the United States and Iran and anyone else involving themselves in Afghanistans civil war for their own gain. Do you believe something like this is again happening but in Syria?

Livingonone2 karma

We came here to get a better understanding of the humanitarian aspects of this crisis and learn more about the everyday human stories of resilience-- we are trying to keep that as our focus rather than the political or religious aspects of the situation.

[deleted]2 karma


Livingonone4 karma

There are a couple of answers here, things that I didn’t know before coming either, but I think it’s really important for people to know that this could happen to any of us. Every single one of our neighbors here has said that they never expected something like this could happen to them.

Refugees are simply people who have been uprooted from their country and their homes. Like any society, there are impoverished families, but just in our small neighborhood, there is an accountant, a university student just a few courses away from graduating, and a family who used to own their own furniture store. A refugee camp is not and should not be a storage facility for people. A refugee deserves the same rights as any person. To have choice, to be treated with respect, and to be supported by their global neighbors in this unexpected time of need.

chazyvr2 karma

Will you be releasing videos while you're there?

Livingonone3 karma

We haven't been able to release any videos so far due to the pretty awful internet in the camp. We've been writing blog posts detailing our experiences and the stories we have heard though. You can find them on our website if you're interested. We also shot an enormous amount of footage (about 1.2 TBs) and are planning on completing a short documentary film by the summer!

epicmoustacheman2 karma

What's the weather like there?

Livingonone5 karma

Because it's a desert climate in the middle of the winter, it can be bitterly cold at night. There's also not much to protect you from the wind. Thankfully the aid organizations have been distributing extra blankets and clothes, and also working as quickly as possible to move families from tents into "caravans".

temple_ian1 karma

what are caravans?

Livingonone2 karma

They are rectangular and aluminum and have two windows. They're also tall enough that you can actually stand up inside, which does wonders for making it feel more like a home

dhrtmn2 karma

Can you talk a little about some of the people or organizations doing work in the camp? What exactly are they doing? Are they viewed well by the Syrians?

Keep up the great work!

Livingonone2 karma

The aid organizations here are definitely unsung heroes. There are over 40 NGOs working in the camp to provide water, shelter, infrastructure, schools, youth centers, community outreach, governance, etc. To give you a few quick facts about how logistically impressive it is, everyday they distribute 22 metric tons of fresh bread alone (500,000 Pitas), not to mention the rest of the dry food (Rice, lentils, burgal, and salt). There are also 40-50 facilities for children and youth, made up of schools, child friendly spaces, and multi-activity centers.

From what we’ve seen, the system wouldn’t work if the NGOs didn’t spend time building trust with the community. They do tent by tent outreach regarding new programs and coordinate with village leaders.

We’ve been looking the closest at the programs of Save the Children, the International Rescue Committee and the UNHCR. Each of the three has been pivotal in helping us be the first filmmakers ever to live in a tent in a UNHCR refugee camp.

temple_ian1 karma

How do these organizations coordinate their work?

Livingonone2 karma

The UNHCR coordinates all humanitarian activity in the camp. It's done through weekly coordination meetings with all organizations actually. There’s also a strategic advisory group of a few of the main agencies that plans for the future. Jordanian authorities are in charge of security.

Kknowsbest2 karma

How much longer do you expect to live there?

Livingonone3 karma

This is our last week here actually. We are heading home on Saturday

joshana122 karma

Are there Syrians in that camp who are supporters of the government but are threatened and bullied to keep silent?

Livingonone2 karma

We have not really explored that. We came here to get a better understanding of the humanitarian aspects of this crisis and learn more about the everyday human stories of resilience-- we are trying to keep that as our focus rather than the political or religious aspects of the situation.

temple_ian2 karma

Is there a unique "culture" that's built up within the camp, separate from outside the camp? What does it look like? Also, how many cups of tea do you drink a day?

Livingonone2 karma

I've been giving this one some thought and will get back to you. To answer the easy part though, we have about 6-8 small cups of tea a day (usually 2 per sitting), which includes around the equivalent of 10 sugar packets...

djgump352 karma

What's the most dangerous thing that has happened to you on this assignment?

Livingonone2 karma

We've felt so safe in the camp. Syrians are incredibly welcoming and always smile and say hello. We met with the Jordanian authorities and local community leaders in our district on the first day and they've helped introduce us to others. There was one moment though, when we were in a crowded food distribution area when bad news from the Geneva II peace talks happened. People were understandably really upset and some protests began, so we kept off the main roads.

pacotaco31 karma

Just purchased Living on One Dollar. It's a great film! Thanks for doing what you do.

Livingonone1 karma

Thanks! Excited to see what you think of this next film, Salam Neighbor, too. Hoping to have it done by summer