Dr. Curt Rhodes
October 20, 2022
Founder's Series: Our Founder and Chief Vision Officer, Dr. Curt Rhodes, on what it means to serve the last.

"Amjad is a tall guy with an immaculate hipster beard always flashing his “million-dollar” Hollywood smile. But his heart hides scars from the violence he fled from in Syria. He was almost lost, like hundreds of thousands of young people – full of fear and no idea what would come next.

When he got to the Zaatari refugee camp in the north of Jordan in 2011, the camp vibe was about getting tents up, securing blankets, lining up for food rations, finding clean water. Everyone arrived pretty much with only the clothes on their backs, carrying burdens of trauma in their hearts, needing some place to feel safe.

That is how it started.

Syrian refugees are not problems to be solved, but resources to invest in.  The Questscope space in Zaatari camp has always “belonged” to Syrians. They have keys to the gate, to meeting rooms, to offices (where computers, musical instruments, camera equipment live). They also are the key-idea folks. They initiate, they innovate, they inspire us to design second chances inside the “weirdness” of a refugee camp – where everyone is continually reminded that the refugee world is you-we, they-us, outsider-insider. Except that we do not accept that.

The first year Amjad was in the camp he figured out what he wanted to do. When he was in high-school, his father helped him start his own little library - buying, reading, and organizing books in his room. He wanted to do that again in the Zaatari camp. He went back to draw on his past experience to go forward into the future. He wanted to set up a library for others like him to read, to take a book home to finish it, to discuss books in a group.  

So, that is what he did. Amjad became the Questscope librarian/poet for our tiny camp library (about the size of a modest mobile home). It was his idea for a lending library to have a book club, a creative writing club, poetry slams, and space for training (3 full-time librarians now work out of the Questscope space). We even started the first Kindle/e-book club in the Camp – bringing Amjad’s love of Syria and books in sync with his Millennial Gen penchant for technology.

There are 80,000 residents in the Zaatari camp now served by 11 libraries in addition to Questscope, linked in an Association of Camp Libraries. Amjad is the head coordinator of this Association. By encouraging and enabling Amjad to turn his dream into reality, thousands of younger Syrian youths each year can stand on his shoulders to go higher. Pretty good SROI (social return on investment), right?

In 2021, the Association of Camp Libraries in Zaatari won an international competition for best activities in libraries all around the globe. The first prize award of $10,000 buys lots of books in 2022 for the youthful reading public!  

This is how it rolls now.

It gets even better. Dr. Karen E. Fisher, Information School of the University of Washington, Seattle, now aims for formal certification in library science for refugee librarians to become a real possibility – opening up career paths that did not exist before. This is absolutely vital for individuals like Amjad to get out of the economic and social limitations of that “weird” refugee world – into a world that needs them as leaders and values the wisdom of their pain.

Amjad originally came to the camp with only his shirt on his back. But not really! He came with his mind, his heart, his aspirations, and just a bit of hope. We were able to meet that little bit of hope and give it space to grow.

This is the Questscope secret. We believe in people, even when they sometimes cannot believe in themselves. We add our bits of hope to theirs and mix our beads of sweat with theirs and bring our resources to match with their assets.

And we are always astonished at the beauty and depth of what they accomplish.

Come, be astonished with us!


Amman, Jordan

Dr. Curt Rhodes