A desperate and largely unknown humanitarian crisis is deteriorating in the Lake Chad Basin region of West Africa, forcing millions of people to flee their homes and leaving millions more in need of humanitarian assistance. Oxfam is providing life-saving support but help is urgently needed to prevent the crisis turning into a catastrophe.
On St Valentine’s evening, the families of Aya and Mohammed gathered in a tiny prefabricated building in Jordan’s Zaatari camp, a vast sprawling place in the desert housing an estimated 90,000 refugees who fled Syria, and agreed on their engagement.
Aya, 17, and Mohammed, 21 are cousins and both originally from Daraa, in Syria.
Mohammed arrived in Jordan a year ago; and is one of the lucky few to find work. But his pay, doing the nightshift in a restaurant, nets him only around 230 dollars a month.
There is probably no money for Aya to buy a white wedding dress or veil. “Am I sad about this? Yes”, she says her eyes downcast, but still finding it hard not to smile shyly at her father and family who are watching on.
The engagement party will be held in the family prefab in the camp next week, but it will be a small, intimate family affair. “There will be no music and dancing, because it doesn’t seem right when back home, people are getting killed”, said Mohammed.
“I never expected to get married like this, to be in a refugee camp”, Aya said. “I’m sad that this isn’t happening back home, because all the family, our loved ones and friends would be there. Now, we are all separated.”
The couple plan to marry in a few months time. Mohammed is sharing a small room with Aya’s brother, who also works with him in a restaurant. But the couple will need some space and privacy to make their new life together.
“Life is very tough here”, says Mohammed. “But that doesn’t mean it should stop us from trying to live life normally. Life must go on, with or without the regime in Syria. I just wish all the family could be here.”
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