Intern Insider: Anton Delgado’s internship takes him to Jordan to tell stories from Syrian refugee camp
The Elon University junior is writing from inside Zaatari for Save the Children Jordan, a non-governmental organization focused on educating impoverished children.
Not even a mile and a half from the Syrian border in Mafraq, Jordan, sit what seem like endless rows of tents, metal shelters and small basic shops meant to house almost 80,000 Syrians. This cramped two-square-mile tract of land is called Zaatari refugee camp, and it’s the largest of its kind in the world. Opened in 2012, the camp has transformed into a seemingly permanent settlement for the Syrians who have fled their home country since war broke out in 2011.
More than half the population in Zaatari is under 24 years old. Twenty percent are under the age of 5. And it’s these children with whom Elon University junior Anton Delgado, a journalism and international & global studies double major, spends time with every week as part of his summer internship.
Delgado is a communications intern for Save the Children Jordan, a United Kingdom-based non-governmental organization with offices in more than 120 countries dedicated to helping underprivileged children receive an education. The hope, Delgado explains, is that enrolling kids in classes will help protect them from child labor, malnutrition or early marriage, and allow them to pursue higher education in the future.
“In 2012, all of Save the Children Jordan’s efforts moved from helping the impoverished in Jordan to helping the refugees in Jordan,” Delgado says. “I’ve been working mainly in Zaatari refugee camp.”
Since starting in June, Delgado has revamped the Save the Children website and provided written news coverage of major events like World Refugee Day, visits from politicians, celebrities and spokespeople, and features from inside the camp. He’s also served as photographer and videographer when needed.
He spends two to three days of his work week in Zaatari, searching for refugees whose personal stories he wants to share with the world. He hopes the work of Save the Children Jordan serves as a continued reminder about the human toll the crisis in Syria has taken.
“When I came to Jordan, I had a lot of misconceptions about what working with refugees would be like,” Delgado says. “I thought they’d all be determined to go back home and that they’d have strong opinions about who they’d want to win the war. But after speaking with them it was demoralizing to see how none of them cared. They all just want to go home and be safe. I thought it would be a politically intense conversation, but they want whoever can make the bombs stop, can promise safety and security.”
And after his time in Zaatari, Delgado says he can understand why a feeling of exhaustion and fleeting hope exists among the teenagers and adults. The conditions in the camp are taxing, he says, because water isn’t easy to come by and food distribution is a constant challenge. He’s often observed unrest in the camp, but in Delgado’s experience, that unrest hasn’t boiled over to violence. He, personally, has never felt unsafe in Zaatari or in Amman.
While the older Syrian siblings and parents in the camp may sometimes lose faith, they do their best to ensure the children – some of whom have lived in the camp their entire lives – maintain hope for the future.
“These kids can’t wait to go home and rebuild the country they never knew,” Delgado says. “From what I’ve seen the next generation is willing to take up the task of rebuilding the country. These kids are the future of Syria, and it’s nice to see they haven’t given up. I hope I meet them again in 10 years when they’re hopefully back home and making a difference.”
Delgado decided during the fall 2017 semester to pursue an internship that would allow him to work “on the front lines” of an international crisis. He figured Jordan was one of the more stable countries engaged in the war against ISIS and terrorism, so he began searching for an opportunity there. He wound up, of course, on the border of Jordan and Syria, a place where even some local news outlets won’t venture.
In early January, he was one of five interns hired by Save the Children Jordan for the summer. But just a couple of weeks later he learned he would be the only one making the trip.
On Jan. 24, ISIS attacked a Save the Children office in Jalalabad, Afghanistan. Five people were killed and dozens were wounded. After the tragedy, Delgado’s would-be intern colleagues dropped out. But he stayed and now serves as the only intern in the Jordan office.
“I had made a commitment and it was a dream come true to even get the internship,” he says. “In this line of work there will always be risks, and you have to play it smart and think about what’s worth the risk. I thought this internship would be worth it because of the work I’m doing.”
Delgado noted that his internship has forced him to become a better and more empathetic listener. It’s also helped him develop as a storyteller and a story generator – skills he plans to implement as he continues to work at Elon News Network when he returns.
He credits ENN and his communications classes with providing him the technical skills needed to do his job. Additionally, his coursework in international and global studies has helped him contextualize the issues in the Middle East, which gives his coverage a depth it might otherwise lack.
Delgado says his experience with Save the Children Jordan has been mentally taxing. It’s difficult not to reflect on what he’s seen and heard. It’s almost impossible to report dispassionately on the refugees after hearing their stories and witnessing the conditions in which they live. But those are the memories he wants to capture because he feels there’s value in telling their stories to the world. The stories also remind Delgado of why he wants to pursue journalism as a career.
“I wanted to immerse myself in a refugee camp and excel as a journalist because that’s what I want to do in the future,” he says. “I believe journalism spreads the truth and shines light in the darkest of places. I’m here because I want to make a difference in a community.
“I think the Syrian crisis will be a defining moment for my generation, and I’ll always be proud to say I tried to make a difference.”