SoCal Student Visits Syrian Refugee Camp, Witnesses "Desperation" First Hand

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Deric Mendes, a student and freelance journalist, traveled to the Zaatari refugee camp in the Jordanian desert where it's estimated 130,000 refugees are living, many whom have escaped battle-torn Syria. Hetty Chang reports from Long Beach for NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on Sept. 10, 2013.

    In his Arabic 101 class at Cal State Long Beach, Deric Mendes, a student and freelance journalist, taps his feet to an Arabic song they're learning.

    The language is not his native tongue, but he feels connected to it, and the people who speak it.

    Mendes has seen in person the horrors most Americans only know from watching television. In July, he traveled to the Zaatari refugee camp, a 3-mile piece of desolate Jordanian desert where it's estimated 130,000 refugees are living, many whom have escaped battle-torn Syria.

    "There's a lot of desperation. There's a lot of fear," he said.

    As world leaders debate diplomatic solutions or military strikes, life hangs in the balance, Mendes said Tuesday, the day President Obama scheduled to address the nation on the Syrian crisis.

    "We think when peace treaties are signed or bombs aren't dropping, the suffering just ends," Mendes said.

    At the Zaatari camp, Mendes met children without limbs, starving children caring for orphaned kids and men terrified to show their faces for fear of being killed, he said.

    While they have escaped the horrors of Syria, the fear and suffering for the Syrian people has continued into the camps, according to Mendes.

    "In the camp, you see people suffering from losing people who ended up starving or freezing in the winter because they didn't have enough shelter or rations," Mendes said. "There are people who are very traumatized by the experiences as the conflict continues, the numbers grow and so does the fear.

    "There's a fine line between intervening to deter a problem and exasperating it," Mendes said as he shared one of his favorite quotes.

    "The irony of war is that it's always much more involved that we think it is. We think if we start a war, it's just going to end in a way that we plan."

    In the end, Mendes hopes humanitarian efforts and the spirit of the Syrian people will prevail.

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