A school for 5,000 students, funded by the Bahraini government, is due to be completed by the end of the month, said Hyde, UNICEF's representative to Jordan, and the organization has appealed for funds to take in more.
The help is also needed outside the camp, with more than 160,000 refugees living in various Jordanian communities. About 18,000 of their children began classes last month in Jordanian government-run schools, which are getting international aid to absorb the influx. At least 200,000 Syrian children displaced inside their country are having difficulty accessing education, Hyde said. Tens of thousands more Syrians have fled to Turkey, Iraq and Lebanon.
The refugee issue has raised worries that Jordan could be dragged into Syria's conflict. On Wednesday, the U.S. said it had stationed more than 100 military personnel in Jordan to help in the crisis, including helping it absorb the refugees. The team — which is the closest American military presence to Syria's civil war — has been providing medical kits, water tanks and other humanitarian supplies to Jordan, as well as training to its border troops on dealing with refugees.
The school is part of a drive to improve conditions at Zaatari, where rioting has broken out several times as refugees complain of lack of lighting and water and the stifling dust at the camp set on a parched, treeless strip of land.
"We're in a race against time to get things done before winter," said Andrew Harper of the U.N. agency for refugees. Communal kitchens are being built, refugees' tents and two school tents will be winterized with heaters and insulation, and a drainage system is being installed to deal with winter rains.
In Zaatari, UNICEF is working with British-based Save the Children and the International Medical Corps to provide counseling for the camp's traumatized children.
For Ahlam, a 10-year-old from the central Syrian town of Homs, school is a welcome respite from the death and destruction, but she just wishes the nightmare back home would end.
"They attacked us and they started to kill us. That is why we ran away," said the tiny girl, with honey-colored curls. "Sometimes, I have nightmares of people attacking me. I hope everything in Syria would just go away."
Outside the school's gate, seventh-grader Saud from Daraa could barely wait for his and the other boys shift to start. He said his family fled to Jordan because his brother was wanted by the security forces.
"Usually the regime takes those on its wanted list and slaughters them in front of their family," he said. "That's why we escaped here."