Capturing Zaatari

Senior political science major Deric Mendes spent a month inside a Syrian refugee camp.

Capturing Zaatari

Courtesy of Deric Mendes

Senior political science major Deric Mendes high-fives a Syrian child refugee during a soccer match at the Zaatari camp on his trip to Jordan in July.

Since childhood, senior political science major Deric Mendes has been surrounded by politics and activism.

Mendes grew up in Northern California amid the state’s Redwood Timber Wars-, a time when many environmentalists were protesting against the logging industry’s practice of clear-cutting trees.

Most recently, however, Mendes has returned to the U.S. after spending a month in a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan.

During his trip in July, Mendes visited various places in Jordan but spent most of his time reporting and photographing in a Zaatari refugee camp, located about six miles east of Mafraq in Jordan.

“I started investigating U.S. funding and media suppression in the country,” Mendes said.

He said that media coverage of the Boston Marathon Bombings was one of many factors that inspired his decision to go to Jordan.

“Misinformation was everywhere,” he said. “When [President Barack] Obama spoke on the issue, he mentioned Lingzi Lu, the Chinese [graduate] student who was killed. Shortly afterwards, a blog post from China went viral, titled ‘Where You Die Matters.’ The point of the piece was that had she died in a factory in Shanghai, no one would have paid attention.”

Mendes, who has done freelance work as a journalist for publications such as the North Coast Journal, said he felt he could help to shed light on the struggles of Syrian refugees.

“I realized I could use my skills as a journalist to give voice to those who don’t have the opportunity or resources I would,” Mendes said.

A door opened for him when his classmate Jordan Hattar, a senior international studies major, offered him the opportunity he was waiting for. Hattar had traveled to Jordan several times over the past years in an effort to provide aid to refugees.

“I asked [Mendes] to join me at the Zaatari refugee camp because he is an amazing writer, passionate about reporting on stories that aren’t being reported on and because he was willing to give an international voice to those suffering due to the Syrian crisis,” Hattar said.

Mendes then set up a page on Indiegogo.com, a crowd-funding website, to fund his trip to Jordan. Within two weeks, he had raised more than $3,000.

During his trip, Mendes found that the camps were plagued by many issues, including police bribery, malnourished refugees and young girls being sold into early marriage.

Mendes said the most difficult part of visiting the refugee camp was witnessing the toll the Syrian civil war has taken on children.

“Seeing children missing limbs and scars was frustrating,” Mendes said.

Since his return to California, Mendes has published some of his photos of the camp on Boldtypemag.com, an online journal that focuses on politics, literature, arts and culture.

He said that he now plans to blog about his experience at the refugee camp and he hopes to publish articles that he wrote at the camp.

Mendes is also looking to educate college students about the refugee situation in Jordan. He said he’s working on pitching an idea to educate students through a photo exhibit and lectures with Youth and Leaders Living Actively, a California-based organization that helps child survivors of war rebuild their lives through education.