They left everything to save their lives. Now these Syrians are rebuilding. Again.
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Tribeca Film Festival

It was March 2011, the middle of the Arab Spring, when 15 teenage boys were arrested in the Syrian city of Daraa for spray-painting anti-government graffiti on walls.

Public outrage followed. Then protests. Then a military crackdown by the government succeeded, inevitably, by unending civil war.


Destroyed tanks in the Syrian city of Azaz. Image by Christiaan Triebert/Flickr.

Since the fighting began, an estimated 470,000 people have lost their lives. Millions more have fled. By current numbers, an estimated 4.8 million citizens have already left Syria, many with little more than the clothes on their backs.

On July 28, 2012, the Jordanian government opened a Syrian refugee camp a few miles east of the city of Mafraq.

It was never supposed to be permanent.


The Za'atari refugee camp is the second largest of its kind in the world and, if it were an official city, it would at present be in the top 10 for largest population in Jordan.

Image by UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office/Flickr.

The site is three miles wide, separated into 12 districts housing an estimated 79,000 residents. It includes at least 30,000 shelters, three hospitals, nine schools, some mosques, a theater, and a sports center. There's an outdoor market of 3,000 shops and stalls where people can buy groceries, home goods and provisions. Residents called the market the "Champs Elysees," a cheeky reference to Paris' famously tony shopping district. Za'atari even has its own Twitter account, showing mostly cheerful vignettes of daily life.


Within the barbed wire-topped fences surrounding the camp, there is water, power, humanitarian aid, and (relative) safety.

But is it — and could it ever be — a home?

That's what the filmmakers of "After Spring," a documentary showing at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival, wanted to find out.

Raghad and Ibahim, two refugee brothers featured in the documentary. Image via "After Spring."

This new film follows two refugee families living in Za'atari along with an aid worker trying to keep the camp running smoothly as they collectively grapple with war, displacement, and figuring out "the story of what happens next." The Hollywood Reporter describes the film's main characters:

"The film focuses on several of the camp's residents, including Abu Ibrahim, a former construction worker, and his two teenage children, Raghad, age 13, and Ibahim, age 14, who must somehow find a way to live normal teenage lives in their artificial environment. Then there's Mohammed, who deeply misses his native country; he and his wife Amani have five young children, two of them born in the camp, with a sixth on the way. We're also introduced to Kilian Kleinschmidt, the camp's indomitable manager who clearly takes a hands-on approach to overseeing his charges and who laments that many of the younger residents are foregoing an education and heading down a troubled path."

Since this documentary was filmed, the Syrian civil war entered its sixth year. There is no end in sight.

Meanwhile, millions of other refugees have fled violence or poverty in their home countries, settling in temporary camps not unlike Za'atari. The Calais "Jungle" in northeastern France is home to 5,400 refugees, including 137 Syrian households. Ethiopia's five Dadaab refugee camps house more than 328,000 Somali people.

Children in Za'atari carry empty jugs for water. Image by UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office/Flickr.

In each of these camps are people who've fled homes that were no longer safe. They're all looking for an answer to what happens next. But as friendly borders close, political tensions rise, and refugee numbers continue to grow, it's harder than ever to know what that might be.

Watch the trailer for "After Spring" here:

"After Spring" is being shown at the Tribeca Film Festival as part of its Viewpoints section. Films in Viewpoints take on social issues, zooming in on topics that sometimes feel a little far away from some people but are incredibly close to others.

Thumbnail image by Matthias Somm/Flickr.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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Researchers at Harvard University have studied the connection between spanking and kids' brain development for the first time, and their findings echo what studies have indicated for years: Spanking isn't good for children.

Comments on this article will no doubt be filled with people who a) say they were spanked and "turned out fine" or b) say that the reason kids are [fill in the blank with some societal ill] these days are because they aren't spanked. However, a growing body of research points to spanking creating more problems than it solves.

"We know that children whose families use corporal punishment are more likely to develop anxiety, depression, behavior problems, and other mental health problems, but many people don't think about spanking as a form of violence," said Katie A. McLaughlin, director of the Stress & Development Lab in the Department of Psychology, and the senior researcher on the study which was published Friday in the journal Child Development. "In this study, we wanted to examine whether there was an impact of spanking at a neurobiological level, in terms of how the brain is developing."

You can read the entire study here, but the gist is that kids' brain activity was measured using an MRI machine as they reacted to photos of actors displaying "fearful" and "neutral" faces. What researchers found was that kids who had been spanked had similar brain neural responses to fearful faces as kids who had been abused.

"There were no regions of the brain where activation to fearful relative to neutral faces differed between children who were abused and children who were spanked," the authors wrote in a statement.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less