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Life As A 10-Year-Old Refugee From Syria

Toqa shows a picture of her family taken at their home in Syria, which now lies in ruins. A diligent student, she's risen to the top of her class at the school she attends at the Zaatari refugee camp. Copyright: WFP/Laure Chadraoui

Toqa’s collection of woolly hats is one of the the only things she took with her when her family fled their home in Syria. It's among few reminders of the home she left behind before coming to Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan. Determined to become a doctor, she's at the top of her class at school where WFP provides nutritious snacks to children like her.

ZAATARI (Jordan)—Toqa al-Qouloub is ten years old. In Arabic, her name means “purity of the hearts”. When she first left for Zaatari, she confused it for the name of the seaside resort where her family used to go on holiday. But the only thing the two have in common is sand.

Back in Syria, Toqa’s home lies in ruins. Everything she had, apart from some clothes and woolly hats, is gone. She misses her grandparents and dreams of playing in their garden, which was full of fruit trees she could name one by one.

She thinks of her best friend, Racha, who she hasn’t seen since she left Syria. “I hope she comes to the camp one day. I know I’ll see her soon,” says Toqa.

Like all families at Zaatari, Toqa and her family are surviving on food provided to them by WFP. They cook it for themselves at the camp’s communal kitchen. She also goes to school where she’s given a nutritionally fortified date bar. It gives her parents an added reason to send her and while providing Toqa with the energy to focus on her lessons.

Fleeing home

Toqa has vivid memories of the day her family left home. She was in school when all of the students were dismissed and told to hurry home.

"All the kids started running. I was looking for my sisters and brother but they had headed to our aunt’s house near the school. I ran in another direction home,” she says.

Her mother risked shrapnel and bullets to climb on the roof and call Toqa’s father, who was working in Algeria. But the lines were down and the shelling was getting closer.

She told her children not to pack anything they couldn’t carry on their backs. Toqa set off with a few clothes, some hair clips and her favourite wool hats. “When we were in the car, I looked back at the house and cried.”

After reaching the border, she remembers walking for hours with her little bag in one hand and her four-year-old cousin’s hand in the other. “It was dark but there was moonlight. I wasn’t scared. I was only worried that my little cousin would fall down and hurt himself.”

Life in Zaatari

Before fleeing her home in Syria, Toqa was the star pupil of her class. Now that schools have opened in Zaatari, she’s determined to be at the top of her class. 

“I study a lot. I always study alone because I have to rely on myself. When I grow up, I can only depend on myself and I have to get used to that,” she says. “I want to become a surgeon to heal people and save their lives. If someone’s injuries are grave, I want to be able to save them.”