Salam Neighbor: Chris Temple Comes To Collegiate

“We’re not just Syrians and Americans, but we really are neighbors, and when neighbors are in need, hopefully they can come together and help each other.”- Zach Ingrasci

Chris Temple, famous for his #1 iTunes documentary Living on One Dollar, recently released his latest film Salam Neighbor, a documentary on the Syrian refugee crisis. This is the second year that Temple has visited Collegiate to speak about his films to the Global Issues Forum, comprised of Virginia high school students, but this year he also spoke in assembly to the entire Collegiate Upper School. Douglas Freeman High School, a school participating in the Forum, was one of many schools across the United States to show Temple’s latest film. Catherine Devoe (‘16) attended the Freeman screening and says, “Salam Neighbor destigmatizes Islam as an evil religion, brings the refugee crisis to us… and forces [Americans] to acknowledge the severity of this crisis and holds us accountable for making a difference.” Upper School English teacher Allison Seay attended the screening as well and believes the film, “manages to balance what might be thought of as an ugly and overwhelming problem in the world with beautiful cinematography, music, dialogue.” The movie is being shown in select theaters, convention centers, and schools. Though, once the movie gets enough publicity through social media, it will also be available on Netflix. Julia Hahn (‘16) says, “I’d recommend his film to anyone I met, especially those ignorant to the situation.”

While on tour for Living on One Dollar, Temple met a Palestinian refugee in Los Angeles. After talking with her, Temple wanted to learn first hand what it is like to be a refugee.  Major American news sources primarily focus on political distress in Syria and the resulting mass migration to Europe. Often forgotten are the refugees who have settled in Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, and Lebanon, who make up 90% of the Syrian refugee population. After working with the United Nations and the Jordanian government, Temple and his friend Zach Ingrasci became the first filmmakers allowed to live in a refugee camp.

“How do you rebuild after you have lost everything?”- Chris Temple

Temple and Ingrasci aimed to answer this question in their 30 days in Za’atari refugee camp, located near Mafraq, Jordan. This camp covers 3.75 square miles and houses around 85,000 refugees, about four times the population of Goochland County. This documentary aims to give a voice to the voiceless and provide Americans with an understanding of the refugee crisis through the eyes of the refugees.

“It’s that instant, when you cross this imaginary line, you become a refugee.”- Unknown Syrian refugee.

The Champs Elysée market street. Photo courtesy of Living on One.

Upon arriving at Za’atari, refugees are given vaccines, water, and then a tent to set up in a given district of the camp. Unlike most camps, Za’atari allows families to move their tents and trailers near relatives and even build permanent homes. Knowing refugees stay in camps for an average of 17 years, camp manager Kilian Kleinschmidt allows campers to start their own businesses. Due to the determined nature of many of the refugees, these small businesses have grown into a multi-million dollar economy centered around a shopping street with over 3,000 stores, humorously named the Champs Elysée.

“These are not people sitting idly by, accepting hand-outs. This is a population that’s actively working, and rebuilding, and creating their new life.”- Chris Temple

Temple and Ingrasci talk with their neighbors. Photo courtesy of NPR.

Before living in the camp, Temple feared what he would experience, hearing mostly of extremist group violence through American and international media. Devoe (‘16) believes, “media generates broad stereotypes about innocent Syrian people, gives rise to a population of misinformed citizens, and incites an illegitimate fear of Syrians in American people.” Upon arriving at Za’atari, Temple realized that the people who lived in the camp fled Syria in order to reach peace. Even with many of the Middle Eastern-based extremist groups having anti-American sentiments, Temple says that the refugees he met were extremely welcoming and helpful. Knowing first-hand that a government does not always represent the opinions of its people, the refugees Temple spoke with easily separated their feelings towards American people and the American government. With nine out of ten refugees in Za’atari having access to a smartphone, many watch political discussions regarding refugees. Temple says that, “The second hardest thing about this whole experience, was sitting there and having Ra’ouf, at 11 years old, ask me ‘Does the whole world think I am a terrorist?’” Temple wants Americans to know that when we divide communities because of fear, people around the world are listening.

“[A willingness to listen] is the first step.. in addressing this crisis is to stop this divide that’s happening between East and West. To stop our fear and the building up of fear that is happening between Islam and the west.” – Chris Temple

Ingrasci and Raouf share drink tea together. Photo courtesy of WNYC.

In an Upper School assembly on February 11, Temple urged the audience to learn about social situations, like the refugee crisis, through sources beyond just the media. He suggests being open to hearing and sharing stories of people unlike oneself, then using the information found to discover a passion and to take action that gives a voice to the voiceless. Without these qualities, neither Salam Neighbor nor Living on One Dollar would not have been possible.  

Read more about the refugee crisis in the Middle East from writer Elizabeth Harrison (’17). 

Cover photo courtesy of Living on One.

About the author

Elizabeth Murphy is a junior at Collegiate.