A member of Action Against Hunger's WASH team teaches children about hygiene and handwashing in Azraq Refugee Camp.

A Mother Will Always Be A Leader

How refugee mothers and grandmothers are improving hygiene in Jordan's Azraq Refugee Camp

Despite the conflict raging in her country, Amina refused to leave her hometown, Aleppo. Her children sought safety in Turkey and Jordan, but Amina, a 67-year-old widow and mother of seven, did not want to leave her homeland behind. 

But three years into the Syrian Civil War, the situation in Aleppo took a turn for the worse, and Amina realized her life was in danger and decided to flee. 

Most of her children had been living as refugees in Turkey since the start of the conflict, but Amina’s only option as a refugee now was to flee to Jordan, where one of her sons had been staying. Her teenage grandson came with her for the long journey to the Jordanian border, but was forced to return to Syria by security forces when Amina crossed.  

Amina holds two of her grandchildren, and hopes to be reunited with the rest of them.

Amina holds two of her grandchildren, and hopes to be reunited with the rest of them.

Natalie Abu-Eisheh
for Action Against Hunger,

"Separation is hard and my family is divided like scattered pieces of a puzzle, it is heart breaking that it’s out of our control," Amina said. "After all we’ve gone through; I was feeling extremely lonely without my children. All I want is to have them around again." 

Amina found refuge in Azraq Refugee Camp in Jordan, staying with her son and his family. Established in 2014 and located in the northern part of the country, Azraq is now home to nearly 36,000 Syrian refugees. 

Action Against Hunger oversees and implements the camp’s Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) program, which is supported by UNICEF. In addition to providing the entire population of Azraq Camp with their daily ration of clean water, our WASH activities include water treatment, water supply, daily maintenance of more than 3,600 WASH facilities, and construction work such as the “Grey Water Project”, which is a sewage network used only for grey water – a form of waste water that is cleaner than others. Action Against Hunger and UNICEF also conduct hygiene sessions for children at a child friendly space in Azraq Camp, open to everyone. The children attend lessons on hygiene practices and water preservation, learning through fun activities and games. 

Action Against Hunger's team teaches Syrian refugee children how to wash their hands effectively in Azraq Camp.

Action Against Hunger's team teaches Syrian refugee children how to wash their hands effectively in Azraq Camp.

Farah Sayegh
for Action Against Hunger,

Additionally, Action Against Hunger works with Syrian refugee women to raise awareness among their peers about healthy hygiene and safe sanitation practices. It’s called the Leader Mother Program, and it empowers women and helps build leadership skills – allowing them to teach their neighbors about hygiene and water conservation. Right now, there are more than 720 women serving as Lead Mothers in Azraq Camp, and Amina is one of them. 

The women meet twice each month. First, they meet with Action Against Hunger’s team to discuss the challenges being faced in camp, particularly those related to sanitation and hygiene. In the second meeting, the Lead Mothers meet with the other refugee mothers in their area to share the lessons they learned during their first meeting. 

"I wanted to become one of the Lead Mothers, because I wanted to help spread solutions on how to be clean and healthy while in the camp,” said Amina. “I make sure the women know exactly what to do and how to keep their children away from diseases to make sure everyone stays healthy in the neighborhood.”

Amina noticed mothers and children going into camp bathrooms barefoot, and aimed to bring a positive change and break this habit. 

“When you live in a refugee camp, it’s difficult to keep good hygiene levels, but it’s even more difficult to fight an illness in the camp,” explained Amina. “That’s why I worked with the women to make sure they change this habit, starting with their own children.”

Participation in the Lead Mothers program has a positive impact on the community—but it’s more than that for Amina. Her new role has helped her cope with her feelings of loss and loneliness.

“I treat these women like my own daughters, which makes me feel good. Being a Lead Mother allows us women to form strong bonds, share our feelings, and give advice to each other.” - Amina

The Lead Mother program has been ongoing in Azraq Camp for more than two years, and its benefits have been noticed by the camp community and Action Against Hunger staff. 

"I can recall the concerning hygiene and sanitation situation a couple of years ago," said Majd, a Care Group Facilitator for Action Against Hunger. “After two years of working here at the camp, I saw a lot of improvement in hygiene levels.”

Action Against Hunger is the world’s hunger specialist and leader in a global movement that aims to end life-threatening hunger for good within our lifetimes. For more than 40 years, the humanitarian and development organization has been on the front lines, treating and preventing hunger across nearly 50 countries. It served more than 17 million people in 2019 alone.