Syrian Refugee In Zaatari Camp Builds Vehicle From Scraps

Muhamad Harb, a Syrian refugee currently living at the Zaatari camp in Jordan, has found a way to make a wheelchair-like vehicle out of discarded objects.

The 44-year-old father of seven has a genetic condition that prevents him from walking. Two of his children have a similar disability. When the war broke out in Daraa, a town in southwestern Syrian, Harb fled with his family to Jordan.

Of the millions forced to flee their homes in the Syrian conflict, 80,000 have ended up in the Zaatari refugee camp, located on a three-square-mile slice of the Jordanian desert. There are 635,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan, placing pressure on schools, healthcare, and jobs. Jordan’s King Abdullah has said that the influx of refugees has pushed the country to “boiling point.”

Harb recalls early protests against Syrian President Bashar Assad. “Like most people of Daraa, I participated in the peaceful protests demanding the toppling of a regime that responded by shooting us and shelling our neighborhoods,” he said.

Muhamad Harb
Muhamad Harbis trying to ignite a cultural movement in Zaatari, Jordan’s largest refugee camp.

Now, building on skills he learned in college, Harb has put together a makeshift wheelchair. Functioning like a car, it allows him to travel with ease across the camp, transport the family’s basic needs and take his children to school.

He told HuffPost Arabi that the materials he used to build the vehicle were mere “scraps.” Harb said he got plenty of help from the camp’s occupants. “My friends didn’t hesitate to help me finish my vehicle. They always urged me to complete it,” he said.

In Zaatari, the largest refugee camp in Jordan, refugees often demonstrate a desire to be creative; they have made their own furniture and decorated their caravans.

Jordan Pix via Getty Images
Syrian refugees women sit next to their colorful caravan on Feb. 2 in the creative Zaatari camp.

Finding that the in-kind food his family was receiving wasn’t enough, Harb decided to seek a source of income. He started working as a peddler at the Zaatari camp market and eventually managed to open a small booth there.

He said he got plenty of support from his eldest son. “My son was there with me through every step. If not for him, I would have never managed to start my own business,” Harb said.

His work at this booth has allowed him to meet people at the camp and have rich conversations — often about art and theatre.

Finding like-minded people at the camp has pushed him to reminisce about the time he spent working in theatre, back in Syria.

“I am not new to the world of art and theatre. My passion for the field actually started when I was in school. I was actually a member of a theatrical group for people with disabilities. I produced a lot of work back then,” Harb said.

Muhamad Harb
Muhamad Harb got help from the community at Zaatari as he was building his wheelchair.

In an attempt to bring art to Zaatari, Harb wrote and produced a play titled “Against All Odds.” It was performed at Zaatari before showing in the Jordanian capital, Amman.  

A group of 25 people produced and performed “Against All Odds”, Harb said, some of them people with disabilities. “Not all the members are interested purely in acting and the theatre. There are others who are more interested in music and playing musical instruments. Others even excel at poetry and storytelling.” 

“The artistic diversity of the group has allowed us to present more shows and participate in different cultural events inside and outside the camp,” he added.

This post first appeared on HuffPost Arabi. It has been translated into English and edited for clarity.

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