Teresa Perosa (Jordan)

Teresa Perosa is a graduate student at the School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) at Columbia University. After working for six years as a journalist covering world affairs based in her hometown of São Paulo, Brazil, she is pursuing a master's degree in international affairs, concentrating in human rights & humanitarian policy and specializing in gender and the Middle East. She worked as a special correspondent reporting from Colombia, Venezuela, the US, Egypt, Turkey, Jordan and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Her work on the Za'atari Refugee Camp, in northern Jordan, was awarded at the International Red Cross Humanitarian Journalism Prize in 2017. At SIPA, she is President of the Gender Policy Working Group (GPWG), a student-based organization which aims to foster the debate on gender in the different areas of policy, and is the Communications Chair of the Human Rights Working Group (HRWG). Teresa holds a BA in Journalism from the University of São Paulo. Her interests include refugee and migration policy, gender, post-colonial and critical theory. After returning from her fellowship over the summer, Teresa discussed with AP the impacts the fellowship had on her. "Working on a CBO helped me to better understand the challenges of program design and implementation for refugees, especially in a hotspot on this issue, like Amman".

Where is Mohamed?

18 Jul

Mohamed Ata, CRP’s volunteer coordinator talks to kids during a dance class at Summer Camp


Ween Mohamed?

For anyone that hangs out enough in the second-floor office of the youth center at the Collateral Repair Project, this question functions pretty much as the soundtrack for the work, a mantra of sorts, repeated over and over again by a variety of passersby – beneficiaries, CRP employees, volunteer colleagues, you name it.

The usual answer is “maa barif” – “I don’t know”, because while we all know Mohamed is somewhere in the premises, he can be literally anywhere, since he pretty much does everything: maybe in one the English classrooms, one of the other offices, teaching a dance class to the kids who come for the Summer Camp program, hanging out with other interns. Too many options.

First time I met Mohamed, I was struck that such a young kid – he is 19 – would be the volunteer coordinator for the whole substantial operation that is CRP. While he was showing me around for the first time and introducing me to people, I quickly realized why he landed the job: there is something deeply charismatic about him, fluidly transitioning between Arabic and English depending on his interlocutor, smiling and cracking jokes. The second time I saw him, he had a Naomi Smalls t-shirt on. I was sold.

Originally from Baghdad, Mohamed has been living in Jordan for the past 4 years, as a refugee himself. “I came to visit my sister who lives in Amman. While I was here, visiting for 2 weeks, the whole ISIS thing happened. So my mom decided I would just stay in Jordan”. This is not the first time he fled conflict. Before that, Mohamed also had spent a couple of years in Syria, with his parents and sisters, from 2006 to 2008, when sectarian violence reached overwhelming levels in Iraq. This is something particularly preoccupying for his family, since his mother and father come from different groups in the country. They went back to Iraq once the situation settled.

“When I got here, in 2014, I had a bag of clothes, I had nothing with me basically, since I was supposed to stay only for two weeks. It was difficult to get my school papers, so I ended up missing one school year”. While waiting to go back to school, he split his time between working at his brother-in-law’s restaurant and learning Japanese. “Languages are one of the things I am very good at”. The facility with languages can be attested by the fact that Mohamed learned his fluent English from watching TV – mostly US programs – what explains both the Californian accent (which he tested to figure out) and the extensive repertoire of American pop culture references.

He managed to go back to school, but after graduating in Amman, by mid-2017, Mohamed found himself without much to do. “The main thing here, for a refugee is that you cannot work and that is really tough. If you want a decent job, a career, you cannot do that in Jordan. There are some opportunities, but they are very minimal. And people cannot get an income that is consistent”.

Mohamed and volunteer Shereen Qedra (right) talk to kids during CRP’s Summer Camp dance class.

While he, as a very small minority of the refugees in the country, can count on some economic support sent from home, sitting idly was not something Mohamed particularly enjoys. “My mental health got really bad, throughout October to January, because I had nothing to do. I think the biggest issue with refugees here in Jordan is having nothing to do, is having their lives on pause. It’s really boring. Humans are made to do something they are passionate about. When they are not, it is really difficult to cope with that. I just sat at home, gained a lot of weight, I was depressed. So, my friend, who was volunteering here, asked me if I did not want to come and be a volunteer at CRP”. After just a few months, he found himself as volunteer coordinator, which involves organizing a relevant number of activities offered by CRP and all the people who participate in them. And also, sometimes, dancing with kids, as you can see below.

Mohamed and volunteer Shereen Qedra (left) teach dance to refugee kids at CRP’s Summer Camp.

For the future, Mohamed hopes to go to university, eventually, but somewhere other than Jordan. “Anywhere really, I am not picky, but if I could choose, probably Canada”. And after that, plans get even bigger. “I really want to keep working in the humanitarian field. And I hope someday to start some sort of organization of my own”.


Posted By Teresa Perosa (Jordan)

Posted Jul 18th, 2018


  • Corinne Cummings

    July 18, 2018


    Hi Teresa, I loved reading your blog post! Interviewing Mohamed was an outstanding idea — he sounds like a precocious kid for only being 19-years-old! He made a lot of wise comments; thank you for sharing his story. I hope he achieves his dreams of going to university in Canada and becoming an LGBT activist someday soon. He would be perfect for that line of work. Mohamed’s seems very passionate; I can see him reaching the goals he aspires to complete. What a great role model for the kids too — they are so fortunate to have him as coordinator. Fantastic pictures as well; thanks for posting these for everyone to see. Keep up the exceptional work, Teresa. Best wishes, Corinne

  • Ali

    July 19, 2018


    Teresa, I loved reading this. Mohamed seems awesome, smart, and passionate – I’m glad you are working with him in Jordan. I really liked how relatable you made this post, and I look forward to reading more of your blogs.

  • Peter Taylor

    July 23, 2018


    Congratulations Mohamed! Impressed to hear details of your making the best of a bad situation not only for yourself but so many others! I like your idea of a future studying in Canada and pursuing work in LGBTQ rights in countries where it s extremely difficult, even life threatening.

    I look forward to to follow your progress and support if I can.

  • Princia Vas

    July 23, 2018


    Thank you for sharing the story of Mohamed, Teresa. Very inspiring indeed!
    Looking forward to learn more about your work in Jordan 🙂

  • iain

    August 5, 2018


    Such a nice profile! You show how CRP has become a true refuge for everyone and how volunteering can restore the spirits. Very nicely written and great photos.

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