Rachel Sider ’14 spoke at the International and Global Studies speaker series on Friday, October 4 about her Davis Project for Peace, an initiative called “Empowering Voices” which encouraged public artistic expression among Syrian refugees living in Jordan.
While the insurgency uprising in Syria and president Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons have global caused outrage and concern for human rights, the refugee crisis caused by the ongoing 30-month-long civil war is often overlooked.
A country of 6 million, Jordan has absorbed at least 600,000 displaced Syrians. As the civil war rages on, many Jordanians are becoming increasing wary of the flood of refugees into their country.
Jordan has had a history of receiving refugees from neighboring countries: Millions of Palestinians flooded into Jordan after the partition of the Palestinian territories, the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees who have entered Jordan over the past two decades remain in the country, and the thousands of Lebanese seeking to flee the country during skirmishes with Israel over the last few decades have also sought Jordan as refuge. Jordan has absorbed millions of foreigners over the last two decades, and the latest influx of Syrian refugees has threatened to push the country over the edge.
While Sider was studying abroad in Amman last spring, she noticed that the refugee situation was causing social tensions as the notion of Jordanian hospitality was tested. She could see that Jordanians were becoming frustrated, anxious about mounting levels of migration, and as communities became over crowded and the already-high demand on public services continued to mount, Sider sensed that the demographic mosaic of the country was nearing a breaking point.
In response to this growing tension, Sider founded Empowering Voices, a project that brought together Syrian refugees in Amman, Jordan to create public art documenting their migrant experiences. Empowering Voices created a network of artist-activists within the Syrian migrant refugees and established a public exhibition, displaying their works of art across the city of Amman.
“It required me to build people’s trust, and it took me a long time to integrate into society there,” Sider said. “I encountered several challenges throughout the project, logistics-wise, and in trying to bridge the gap between the Jordanian and Syrian communities.”
“I wanted to work with artists because they are young professionals with training and passion but without a way to express it — these artists are working as secretaries, as janitors, because those are only jobs they can get as a refugee,” Sider continued. “I wanted to use their talent, and I found they had this power to project their voice across Jordanian society and engage everyday people. I learned the value of art in making social change. ”