It’s a Monday morning, around 30 minutes before a private Zumba class is due to start at the International Rescue Committee centre in the north of Jordan.
A female staff member donning a hijab is pumping a Zumba soundtrack over the centre’s portable stereo in the counselling room. She’s checking to see if the CD works and also taking a personal moment to digest the Latino rhythms.
One by one, almost like a conga line, four staffers dance their way through the door of the room, their steps in sync to each hard salsa beat. Leading the Zumba pack is IRC psychologist, Nawal Hassan Morshid Mohammad.
“The movement of Zumba releases all the pressure and depression from your body, your soul,” says Nawal, the creator of the centre’s counselling and Zumba healing program for Syrian refugees.
“Doing Zumba is like being a new person, a new woman,” she says.
Nawal tells SBS that the unique combination of psychological services and high-energy exercise aims to help female Syrian refugees living in Irbid to settle into their new Jordanian life.
“These activities help in healing and [help refugees to] recover from trauma,” she says.
“As a psychologist, I see the positive change in their lives and their feelings.”
"We have suffered a lot. We have lost many things and I wish to get support with dignity."
The IRC centre in Irbid may be around 20 kilometres south of one of the most dangerous destinations on earth, the Syrian border, but it’s clearly a sanctuary of peace and positivity for local women.
It’s a place where local women shed their burqas and hijabs to get their hair curled at the centre’s beauty salon. Females of all ages gather to crochet, converse and learn English. And it’s a place where Syrian refugees come to Zumba.
According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, there were 13.5 million Syrians requiring humanitarian assistance in early 2016. Amnesty International estimates that Jordan hosts around 635,324 Syrian refugees. Around 30 per cent of all urban refugees registered with UNHCR in Jordan live in Irbid.
Samaher, is a Syrian refugee who fled from Damascus to Irbid with her family three years ago. She received counseling at the IRC centre and started Zumba classes in July, 2015.
“The negative energy – we release it outside of our bodies when we do Zumba,” Samaher says.
“It helps us to get the positive energy.”
Samaher explains that it was hard to acclimatise to her new life as a refugee in Jordan, as she had to mourn the loss of her much-loved home in Syria and work towards building a whole new life.
“But coming to the centre, was like being in another world,” she says. “When I get home sometimes, I feel upset but when I come to the centre, I feel active, and doing more activities gives me more pleasure.”
Samaher’s mother, Amal, also uses the centre’s services and participates in Zumba fitness classes with her teenage granddaughter.
“I wanted to adapt and cope with this [new] life in Jordan,” explains Amal.
“I felt [doing Zumba] would help me because I have some diseases, like [high] blood pressure and diabetes.
“When playing Zumba, everything in [my] body is moving. It is like it is positive energy. My health, my body, my soul and psychological life are now getting better and better.”
“The negative energy – we release it outside of our bodies when we do Zumba.”
Amal says although Jordan is now her home, she “will never forget her country” or the many years she spent there.
She hopes and prays to return to Syria one day and be reunited with the relatives, friends and neighbours she left behind.
“We have suffered a lot. We have lost many things and I wish to get support with dignity.
“I just want my dignity, that’s the main thing.”