22 Feb 2022
By: Olga Borzenkova

If we asked people to describe what a camp for displaced persons is like, most probably we would hear a variety of answers. Some might focus on the conditions, others on day-to-day life, and others on the situation of the people living there. But something less common that would come to mind is: Who manages its day-to-day operations? What is it like to manage a camp?

Amongst the many camps for internally displaced people in northwest Syria, one camp stands out. The camp is known far beyond its borders and regularly attracts the attention of the local media. And it's all because of Jumany – one of the few female camp managers in northwest Syria.

"What inspires me the most is my belief that women can lead, and I want to prove it by my example working in the tough conditions I am in",

says Jumany, who's been managing the camp for more than a year now.

Jumany hasn't chosen an easy path: taking the camp manager position in a quite traditional community and gaining trust from the local authorities is not an easy task for a woman. But going with the flow is not Jumany's cup of tea…and it has never been.

Even while she worked as a teacher at school in Aleppo, she also worked with a medical NGO in her free time, giving lectures on women's health. After she was displaced to Idlib during the conflict, Jumany had to rebuild a new life in a community where women are not typically seen in leadership roles. Even so, Jumany was not discouraged and with the support of a friend, they organized educational classes for women and hosted dressmaking courses to build their entrepreneurial skills. Their efforts paid off: after starting with only six or seven participants they eventually managed to build a support network of over 300 women, which later grew into a garment factory. 

Jumany continued her humanitarian work by joining one of IOM Turkey's NGO partners, as a volunteer helping to transfer people from old camps to new ones. Over time, she gained the skills and confidence to apply for the camp manager position. Jumany was proud to accept the job and ready to face the struggles that came with it. She was prepared to change people's minds about female leadership and shatter stereotypes about women in the community.

"She was different from other volunteers – she always talks to people and consistently tries to help them. We immediately noticed her leadership skills. This is something that one needs in order to manage a camp: when somebody knocks on your door and says, ‘I have a problem,’ you cannot say, ‘I will follow up later,’ you need to go and try to find a solution. We knew that Jumany would be able do just that", says her supervisor.

Jumany's success story is a story of courage and hard work: she listens to every camp resident, makes their voices heard, raises funds, and makes sure to find solutions to their problems. She keeps her phone on 24/7. Her dedication shows through the excellent relationships she has with everyone in the camp.

"I cannot imagine myself not helping others. It makes me sad when I don't have a solution to a person's problem. I keep it in mind until I find it".

Being a camp manager is challenging. The camp Jumany manages currently hosts about 1,600 individuals of different ages and cultural backgrounds. Jumany says her success comes from the support and respect she receives from her team. "No one would have expected me to succeed as a camp manager or that I would make it. But that's wrong. Women should be in leadership positions: we are more pragmatic, have an easier time to find a common language… and we are more creative." And she tells us that she is proud that people and colleagues talk about the achievements of their camp.

The typical working day of the camp manager starts at 8:30 am and ends at 4:30 pm. In between, there is little time to rest. Jumany's days are always packed: she visits the office in the morning and then comes to the camp, follows up with the team, does administrative work and meets with partner organizations, takes a tour around the camp to listen to people and always keeps her office door open during the day. We are lucky that Jumany found some time for an interview, but after a one-hour discussion, we have to end our call: Jumany has another radio interview that she needs to attend, of course, to inspire more women to be the change.

When we ask Jumany for her sources of inspiration and support, she immediately answers: "It's my family who supports me. I come home and spend quality time with my family. It recharges me." Jumany is a mother of four children of different ages -- the elder ones help Jumany look after the younger siblings. Jumany's husband encourages her and takes care of things at home while she is busy at the camp. 

Jamany is a role model for her children: they love what she does and want to become humanitarian workers too. But she always warns them that they must get higher education first and that they must be ready for the responsibility that comes with it. She also reminds them of the importance of honesty, and that it can take a long time to gain people’s trust.

One of the key pillars of IOM Turkey's humanitarian activities in northwest Syria is Camp Coordination and Camp Management (CCCM). To respond to the needs of internally displaced persons, IOM has established and manages 11 planned camps, with the support of its NGO partners. IOM and its’ implementing partners also support the coordination of critical services such as shelter, WASH, food, health, education and protection. 

By Olga Borzenkova, Communications Officer, IOM Turkey,