They left everything to save their lives. Now these Syrians are rebuilding. Again.
True
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.

Mozilla
True
Firefox

When I found out I was pregnant in October 2018, I had planned to keep the news a secret from family for a little while — but my phone seemed to have other ideas.

Within just a few hours of finding out the news, I was being bombarded with ads for baby gear, baby clothes and diapers on Facebook, Instagram and pretty much any other site I visited — be it my phone or on my computer.

Good thing my family wasn't looking over my shoulder while I was on my phone or my secret would have been ruined.

I'm certainly not alone in feeling like online ads can read your mind.

When I started asking around, it seemed like everyone had their own similar story: Brian Kelleher told me that when he and his wife met, they started getting ads for wedding rings and bridal shops within just a few weeks. Tech blogger Snezhina Piskov told me that she started getting ads for pocket projectors after discussing them in Messenger with her colleagues. Meanwhile Lauren Foley, a writer, told me she started getting ads for Happy Socks after seeing one of their shops when she got off the bus one day.

When online advertising seems to know us this well, it begs the question: are our phones listening to us?

Keep Reading Show less

Apparently, I'm being paid off by pedophiles.

This payoff is news to me, but it's what Some Random People on the Internet are saying, so it must be true, right? That's how this works? What other reason would I have for sharing factual information about the very real issue of child sex trafficking and calling out false stories of Satanic pedophile rings in which famous evil overlords like Tom Hanks, Oprah, and Hillary Clinton torture and sacrifice children to increase their own power? I simply must be "in on it" somehow.

That seems to be more plausible in some people's minds than the idea that the wild "Pizzagate" child sex ring theory, which has already been thoroughly and repeatedly debunked, could be fabricated by online trolls and perpetuated by politically-motivated players. People believe Pizzagate is real because they've been convinced that the entire media industry is in cahoots and because fringe "sources" with no oversight and no accountability—who insist they're the only ones telling the truth—said so.

Keep Reading Show less
Mozilla
True
Firefox

When I found out I was pregnant in October 2018, I had planned to keep the news a secret from family for a little while — but my phone seemed to have other ideas.

Within just a few hours of finding out the news, I was being bombarded with ads for baby gear, baby clothes and diapers on Facebook, Instagram and pretty much any other site I visited — be it my phone or on my computer.

Good thing my family wasn't looking over my shoulder while I was on my phone or my secret would have been ruined.

I'm certainly not alone in feeling like online ads can read your mind.

When I started asking around, it seemed like everyone had their own similar story: Brian Kelleher told me that when he and his wife met, they started getting ads for wedding rings and bridal shops within just a few weeks. Tech blogger Snezhina Piskov told me that she started getting ads for pocket projectors after discussing them in Messenger with her colleagues. Meanwhile Lauren Foley, a writer, told me she started getting ads for Happy Socks after seeing one of their shops when she got off the bus one day.

When online advertising seems to know us this well, it begs the question: are our phones listening to us?

Keep Reading Show less
Photo by Mahir Uysal on Unsplash

Two years ago, I got off the phone after an interview and cried my eyes out. I'd just spent an hour talking to Tim Ballard, the founder of Operation Underground Railroad, an organization that helps fight child sex trafficking, and I just couldn't take it.

Ballard told me about how the training to go undercover as a child predator nearly broke him. He told me an eerie story of a trafficker who could totally compartmentalize, showing Ballard photos of kids he had for sale, then switching gears to proudly show him a photo of his own daughter on her bicycle, just as any parent would. He told me about how lucrative child trafficking is—how a child can bring in three or four times as much as a female prostitute—and how Americans are the industry's biggest consumers.

Keep Reading Show less
Courtesy of Chef El-Amin
True

When non-essential businesses in NYC were ordered to close in March, restaurants across the five boroughs were tasked to pivot fast or risk shuttering their doors for good.

The impact on the city's once vibrant restaurant scene was immediate and devastating. A national survey found that 250,000 people were laid off within 22 days and almost $2 billion in revenue was lost. And soon, numerous restaurant closures became permanent as the pandemic raged on and businesses were unable to keep up with rent and utility payments.

Hot Bread Kitchen, a New York City-based nonprofit and incubator that has assisted more than 275 local businesses in the food industry, knew they needed to support their affiliated restaurants in a new light to navigate the financial complexities of shifting business models and applying for loans.

According to Hot Bread Kitchen's CEO Shaolee Sen, shortly after the shutdown began, a third of restaurant workers that they support had been laid off and another third were furloughed.

Keep Reading Show less