Close to the United Nations headquarters in New York, UN employee Jayashri Wyatt is having a face to face conversation with a Syrian refugee thousands of miles away.

Mohammed Kraat is talking to Wyatt via a video portal in the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan.

“I came here (to Jordan) in 2012 due to the problems that you all know about inside Syria and I was wanted for being an athlete so I had to leave, I had to flee the country. So I left with my family and I came here because of all the suffering we’ve been through in Syria,” he says.

Kraat tells Wyatt that he is a wrestler and she tells him about the activities she enjoys.

“I work here at the United Nations in New York City, and my sport is surfing. I like to go surfing here in New York,” she says.

The portal connection that Kraat and Wyatt are using was created by technology and design collective Shared_Studios, which is led by Amar Bakshi.

“The genesis of this project is to create a space where we talk to people we wouldn’t normally talk to, for no other purpose than to get to know them. That’s the idea of portals,” Bakshi says.

The portals project has raised 75,000 US dollars via crowdfunding sites Kickstarter and Indiegogo.

“Since launch in December, we’ve set up a dozen portals around the world, from Iran to Afghanistan. And this one is connected, right now we are at the UN General Assembly in New York, connected to the Zaatari camp for Syrian refugees in Jordan,” Bakshi explains.

“And so delegates from the UN and officials are able to enter and have a one on one personal conversation with someone who’s been living in the refugee camp in Zaatari for a while.”

Samantha Power, the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, stops by to meet Bakshi and try out the portal.

She talks to 13-year-old Sidra Rhayal, who has been living in Zaatari for two years.

After talking to the teenager, who is accompanied in the portal by her sister Adhab, Power describes what the conversation was like.

“She (Sidra Rhayal) said the schools were much better back in Syria, although she is very glad to go to school and determined to keep learning in school for when she can go back to Syria and try to rebuild her community. So it was very moving, very poised and beautiful young girl and she was there with her friend, so they were kind of gossiping – you know, like girls do,” Power says.

“We are going to be working this problem (Syrian conflict) until the problem has been addressed,” she continues.

“And the threat of ISIL (Islamic State group) has gotten attention from more actors than just the destruction of people’s homes and lives had beforehand by the regime – so we will try to exploit at least that attention and channel everybody in a direction, which of course attempts to deal with the ISIL threat, but recognises that you can’t do so as long a regime that gasses and barrel bombs and tortures its people is still in charge.”

Sidra Rhayal says of using the video portal: “I want to send a message to the world that we should end the crisis in Syria so that we can all go back.”

Her sister Adhab feels more hopeful about her future after speaking to Power.

“I think that because of our problems I didn’t have hope that we will return to Syria, but the opposite in fact – she (Samantha Power) encouraged me that she will do all she can to try to help, so we can return to Syria,” Adhab says.

Night falls at the Zaatari camp. The day has brought a few of the residents a chance to connect with a world beyond their own – and imagine a brighter future.

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Story number for this item is: 4006367

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