They refer to him simply as “The Toymaker.”
At 65 years of age with a thin white beard and a broad smile, Mohammed Asaf certainly looks the part.
He lives at the Azraq refugee camp in eastern Jordan, home to more than 30,000 Syrians forced to flee the violence in their homeland.
For the thousands of children living in the camp, life is on hold, and joy is hard to find.
Mohammed arrived at Azraq three years ago, and immediately knew he wanted to make a difference.
“I have to do something,” he thought.
Back home in Syria he had made little toys for his son and nephew and decided he would start making little paper planes for the children at the camp.
After his first few, word quickly spread around the camp and children started visiting to see what toys he was making next. “The people were so happy, some come just to see what I’m doing,” he says.
CARE provided him with paint and supplies so that he could keep making toys to give out around the camp, and his reputation as ‘The Toymaker of Azraq’ began to spread.
He has built more planes, as well as dolls, clock towers and little homes, and he gives them to the camp’s children, to help put a smile on their faces.
He refers to them as natural toys, recycled from whatever odds and ends he can find or from whatever is donated to him. “I love to think about things I can recycle into toys,” he says.
When asked how many toys he has made since coming to Azraq, he has no idea. He’s made so many toys, “There’s no number,” he says.
The toys are not just for the camp’s many children – for Mohammed, building them is a way to keep his mind off his greatest worry: his daughter, who never made it out of Syria. She remained in Homs, the city Mohammed and his wife fled three years ago. He worries every day about the dangers she may be facing. “She’s not safe,” he says.
Many of his toys are inspired by the life he left behind. There are little cows and ducks that remind him of the family farm. One of his prized possessions is a model he made of his home in Syria. It’s about the size of a large dollhouse, with a pink roof, yellow and beige walls, surrounded with a simple picket fence.
He hopes to one day return to Syria, reunite with his daughter, and live a peaceful life in that house again.
Until that happens, he will continue to spread what joy he can as the Toymaker of Azraq.