AMMAN- Today, Syria Direct concluded training its first class of Syrian and Jordanian trainees as part of the Connecting Communities through Professional Engagement Project in partnership with the Australian Embassy to Jordan's Direct Aid Program.

The program trained 12 male and female Jordanian and Syrian journalists in advanced journalism writing, equipping them with the tools to report on issues pertaining to Syrian refugees in Jordan and Syria itself. 

The training course was divided into two classes of six trainees. Each phase included trainees from both countries and sexes, emphasizing collaboration between them to broaden the trainees’ perspective and coverage. 

In the first week of the program, the trainees attended an advanced media writing course. They then proposed an article topic and used the remaining three weeks to develop their ideas and write their reports, relying on the Syria Direct staff for guidance. The reports were published on Syria Direct’s website in Arabic and some were translated into English. 

The training program creates a space for aspiring journalists from different backgrounds to exchange ideas and opinions and ultimately work together to address issues in their shared communities. It also “provides a platform for a new generation of Syrian and Jordanian journalists to come together and support each other through knowledge and their experiences, not just empathy and understanding based on impressions that might not necessarily be true,” Nooreddein Khamaiseh, one of Syria Direct’s trainers said.

Khamaiseh trained almost 150 journalists through Syria Direct, including this program’s second class, along with Zaid al-Rubai, who taught the first class. 

Australian Ambassador to Jordan, H.E Miles Armitage and "Syria Direct" director, Lidija Sabados, present certificate of completion to trainee, 19/09/2019 (Omar al-Shrbaji)

Starting Point 

Ala al-Qasim made a daily commute of over 150 kilometers from her home in al-Zaatari refugee camp to attend the training course with Syria Direct. She joined the program in hopes of receiving more practical experience through the training course with Syria Direct.

“Despite the distance, I’m very happy to have this opportunity,” she said.

Al-Qasim is originally from Daraa, in southern Syria. She moved with her family to Jordan in December 2013. Her move to Jordan meant that she had to halt her university studies until she received a scholarship to continue her studies at a Jordanian university in 2015. 

Though she studied journalism and media at Zarqa University, al-Qasim’s experience in the Syria Direct newsroom was “the starting point of [her] career,” she said. The program allowed her to differentiate “between academic theory and practical application.”

For other trainees who have already started their media careers, like Amer al-Hajj Ali, the course was a turning point for them. 

Ali had previously published freelance reports about Syria and contributed to a local Syrian media platform, but his participation in the training program “changed the way I see the material,” he said, in addition to contributing to his understanding of “the target audience’s diversity.”

Ali, 19-years-old, is the youngest trainee. He took refuge in Jordan with his mother and brothers in June 2013 after his father was killed by the government shelling in Kherbet Ghazaleh, where he lived in Syria. 

Despite his young age, Ali spends several hours a day tracking and sharing news about southern Syria. He spends so much time following the events in Syria that he “knows more about what happens in Syria than what happens around me in Jordan,” he said. 

Trainees talk about their experiences during the "Connecting Communities through Professional Engagement Project," 19/09/2019 (Omar al-Shrbaji)

Integration of Trainees

The Syrian and Jordanian trainees spent free time discussing their ideas and various issues in an open atmosphere. They shared Syrian and Jordanian dishes during breakfast, blending Jordanian and Syrian dialects throughout their conversations. 

During the training session, Hayat al-Dbais, a trainee from Mafraq province, in northern Jordan, detailed the story of Zaatari village, which became world-famous due to its ready acceptance of Syrians, hosting the world’s largest camp for Syrian refugees. 

While coverage has typically focused on the challenges facing the camp and its host village, her report presented a different narrative. It documented a success story; a story of a village who saw refugees not as a burden, but rather peers who needed—and would receive—their support.

In another article, al-Dbais worked with Khadija Abbar, a Syrian refugee. They discussed the challenges facing Syrians who graduated from university in Jordan, a result of a labor law that forbids non-Jordanians from working in so-called “closed professions.”

By working with Abbar, al-Dbais got the chance to hear the stories of Syrian refugees in Jordan first hand, while Abbar become more aware of the local environment and policies regarding the Jordanian labor market. 

Facilitating collaboration between journalists of such different backgrounds “contributes to networking and bridging gaps between young people from both countries,” Khamaiseh said.

“Collaboration has a positive effect on society. If the idea of [collaboration] was widespread … then society would be more open to others,” Maher Hamdan, a Syrian trainee, said. 

Debate generates ideas

Muhannad Juwailes studied journalism and media studies at Yarmouk University in Irbid province in northern Jordan. His time studying there connected him with some Syrian students, but he lost touch with them after graduating, he told Syria Direct

Although three of his friends lived through the war, he never paid much attention to Syrian affairs or politics. “Doing this course with Amer, Ala, and Marwa [three trainees], I learned new things about the situation in Syria and refugees in Jordan,” he said.

Connecting with his Syrian peers brought back memories for him, he said. He used to believe that the Syrians living in Jordan enjoyed high living standards and that they did not need the financial assistance they received. His report focused on stereotypes Jordanians hold about Syrian refugees. Contrary to what many Jordanians believe, UNICEF places 86 percent of Syrian refugees below the poverty line.

Initially, he was afraid to attend the course due to his lack of knowledge about Syrian affairs in comparison to his peers. In the end, however, he found the collaboration process to be “very important,” he said. 

“Collaborating has increased my knowledge and opened me to a realm of new ideas to the point where I started paying attention to issues that I didn’t use to think about,” he added.