The Za’atari Project: Joel Bergner’s Art with Syrian Refugees

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Za’atari Syrian Refugee Camp, 2014, “I dream of…” Joel created this mural during an arts and education initiative with local kids, who participated in the painting of this mural, expressing their dreams for the future. Project partners included AptART, ACTED, Mercy Corps and UNICEF. Photo by AptART

Over the past few years, the Za’atari refugee camp in Northern Jordan has quickly grown in size, becoming the second largest refugee camp in the world, with numbers close to 80,000, according to UNHCR. The Syrians living here have suffered through war, loss, and the upheaval of everything they know. Large aid organisations have been providing basic needs – food, shelter, and medical care – but access to education and cultural activities are just as vital in supporting their mental health and emotional wellbeing. 

Born in Illinois, Joel Bergner is a world-traveling street artist who has used his colourful wall murals as a way to explore “social topics and present the stories of those who are marginalized by society.” He’s lived and worked in Brazil, Kenya, Poland, El Salvador, Mexico and Cap Verde, addressing social issues such as disabled youth, incarcerated teens, sex trafficking and Syrian refugees.

Partnering with artists, educators, aid organisations, and refugees, the mural community project in the Za’atari refugee camp has provided young Syrians with a creative outlet to express themselves. They also led workshops with kids, teaching them about water conservation, hygiene issues in the camp, artistic techniques and conflict resolution. “Through discussions and artmaking, they explored social issues, their longing to return to Syria, their dreams for the future, and their plight as refugees. Dozens of children had the opportunity to participate and add their own creativity to murals that [they] created throughout the camp, adding color and life to the desolate environment and spreading messages of hope to camp residents.”

As you can see, the results of this project are absolutely wonderful. Check out Joel’s website for more on his community art projects around the world. 

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Za’atari Syrian refugee camp, 2014: collaboration with local youth, who painted about what they missed most about their homes in Syria in the coloured shapes. Part of an arts and education initiative in the refugee camp.  

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Za’atari Syrian refugee camp, 2013: This piece was created in collaboration with Syrian refugee children, and explores the importance of water conservation, especially for those who suddenly find themselves stranded in a desert. Project partners AptART, ACTED, UNICEF

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