(photo from the Living on One webpage)
A few weeks ago our church (www.fumccoppell.org) hosted a screening of the documentary film “Salam Neighbor”, produced by the non-profit media company Living on One (www.livingonone.org). The documentary follows the film’s directors, Chris Temple and Zach Ingrasci, as they travel to the Za’atari Refugee Camp in Jordan, currently home to approximately 79,000 Syrian refugees.
To gain a true understanding of life in the camps, Temple and Ingrasci received the permission of the United Nations to register as refugees and were given a tent inside the camp (the first filmmakers ever granted this right). They then spent a month in the camp and in the neighboring city of Mafraq, immersed in the lives of refugees. They learn the stories of those who have been forced to flee their home to build a new life in a foreign land.
The film is a mixture of heartbreak and inspiration. Viewers learn the story of a young boy residing in the camp whose school in Syria was bombed. They meet a couple who lost two adult sons to the war. Viewers hear the stories of families who fled in the middle of the night, leaving home, career, and more with no promise of return. In these moments the full weight of the human tragedy unfolding becomes visceral and real. However, the stories do not end there. The film uncovers remarkable stories of resilience and innovation in the face of countless setbacks. They follow refugees who work with aid and support groups inside Za’atari, refugees who attend school or who devote their time to teaching. Temple and Ingrasci even discover large groups of refugees who have started their own businesses within the camp. They meet woman named Um Ali who gathers plastic bags discarded around the camp and transforms the plastic into yarn, making a variety of arts and crafts. The U.N. refugee agency has since hired her to teach the skill to other young women.
Just as remarkable are the friendships that Temple and Ingrasci develop. Throughout the camp they are welcomed into tents, provided with food, and even play games with their neighbors. They swap stories, share jokes, and develop relationships. It is remarkable to see that, in the midst of so much adversity, so many residents of Za’atari are able to maintain a spirit of hospitality.
The film stands as a remarkable document, providing a clear picture of the day to day struggles of the estimated 11 million Syrians who have fled their home since the beginning of the country’s civil war in 2011.
In a time when a prominent member of the United States government saw fit to suggest that “other people’s babies” pose an existential threat to Western Civilization, this film reminds us of our shared humanity. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “In a real sense all life is inter-related. All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be…This is the inter-related structure of reality.”