With the right kind of aid that restores a sense of control, displaced people are often more resilient than we expect.
Asma'a Rashed, whom I also met at Za'atari, is the kind of refugee the world might be tempted to write off, or to fear as a burden. Married at 14 in her Syrian village, she had two children by the time she was in her late teens, and no high school degree. Now 21, she reads to as many as 100 children at a time. Running a library gave her the confidence to write for the camp newspaper. She was starting to pitch stories via her mobile phone — for pay — to a Turkish magazine.
"I could never think these things would have taken place," she told me through the translator. "But I am very happy."
Just a few weeks ago, a camp school asked Rashed to start teaching. The seeds of the job were planted last year when Rashed began reading stories to the children living there, including the little girl I was worried about. Rashed sat at the front of the trailer with a small stack of books, and began a story about electricity shortages. As she listened, the little girl relaxed and stopped coughing. "Suddenly, suddenly, suddenly," Rashed said in Arabic, building the tension. "The power comes back."
Commentary by Elizabeth MacBride, a freelance writer and editor who writes about entrepreneurs and the Middle East. Follow her on Twitter @editoremacb.