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Born a Refugee, Mohammad Is Growing Up Healthy, Thanks to UNICEF
"This is my son Mohammad, and he just turned 1," said Shaheen, a Syrian refugee who lives in Jordan's Azraq Refugee Camp and works as a shepherd to support his family. "Every time I see him, he has grown more. Little by little, he has started walking, laughing and playing with me. When I play with him, he laughs. When I call him, he comes to me. That is the best moment."
Azraq is home to almost 37,000 Syrian refugees, nearly 22 percent of them under the age of 5. Born in the camp's UNICEF-supported pediatric hospital, little Mohammad is up-to-date on all his immunizations, thanks to a partnership between UNICEF and Jordan's Ministry of Health.
When Mohammad turned 1, his mother took him to the health center to receive his measles, mumps and rubella vaccine. Routine immunization has been mandatory in Jordan since 1979 and all children, regardless of their nationality, have the right to free vaccinations. Vaccine coverage is at an estimated 95 percent for all vaccines.
Dr. Almanti, the Ministry of Health coordinator, has been vaccinating children in this UNICEF-supported health clinic in Azraq for five years. "My job is good," he said. "I'm proud to help the refugees in the camp."
Protecting children with vaccines is particularly important in refugee camps, where disease can spread quickly. Children in their earliest years are the most vulnerable to contracting communicable diseases in challenging living environments.
"I love to play with him and carry him," said Shaheen. "I take him with me to the market and bring him back home. I tell everyone we meet, 'This is my son.' Honestly, any parent would feel happy to see their child grow. I am so happy when I look at him."
Shaheen wants his son to receive a good education, especially since he himself never finished school. "Education is key," he said. "Those who are educated are different. I am always following sheep. I don't know anything about this world. I wouldn't even know if it was destroyed and rebuilt."
Shaheen said he has watched with fascination at how fast his son is growing and the amazing ways his brain has developed in just 12 months. He says he knows the importance of play for his son's development. "When a father plays with his child, then the child gets to know their father and learns from him," Shaheen said. "We must play with them."
A few days after Mohammad was born, his father explained his powerful emotions as a new dad: "I have a strange feeling. I cannot describe it. When I held him, I loved him. I am thinking about how to raise him the right way. His hair is just like mine, his eyebrows as well and his moustache," he said, laughing, as he gently traced his baby's face.
Shaheen knew even then that his son would need a lot of love to thrive. "We tell him that we love him and say Mashallah [God willed it]." He hopes that his son will grow up to become a doctor. But he says he will be just as proud of him if he becomes a shepherd like him.
UNICEF has supported the healthy growth and development of children and youth in Azraq refugee camp since it opened in 2014. UNICEF provides water, sanitation and hygiene, child protection, education, immunization, health and nutrition, youth and adolescent services and social protection to the 22,000 children who live there with their families.
For over 70 years, UNICEF has been putting children first, working to protect their rights and provide the assistance and services they need to survive and thrive. With a presence in 190 countries and territories, UNICEF has helped save more children's lives than any other humanitarian organization in the world.
Top photo: Syrian refugee Shaheen holds his 1-year-old son, Mohammad, in Jordan's Azraq refugee camp. Born in the camp's UNICEF-supported pediatric ward, Mohammad is up-to-date on all his vaccinations, thanks to UNICEF and the Ministry of Health. All photos by Christopher Herwig for UNICEF.