There are no words to describe the kindness of humanity. It is a universal entity that is blessed upon us and is the only light that can bring us out of tragedies that surround us. Even in the darkness of hatred and violence, there are people in this world that persevere. They use what little strength they have left simply to provide for themselves and their families.
Today I had the opportunity to visit a Syrian refugee settlement outside of the Za’atri camp in the Mafraq region of Jordan. We arrived, the 40 of us in a large tour bus with blankets and toys and a plan to build a community tent for the near 500 people that populated this external settlement. They were Bedouin families from just northeast of Damascus, Syria who had to leave their homes due to bombing, lack of food and threats of violence. I was lucky enough to sit in their tents, drink their tea, receive the warmest hospitality from complete strangers and hear some of their stories. Throughout the discussion of their daily life and the reason they had to leave Syria, I was surprised that the women and men kept laughing and smiling and offering us what little they had. This hospitality, given to complete strangers shows simply how respectful and welcoming their culture is.
It was requested by the members of the settlement not to post photos of them on Facebook but I can tell you what I learned about the immediate needs and situation. These refugees were able to leave the camp and adopt a lifestyle more similar to their Syrian one outside of the crowded gravel roads of Za’atri. This is because they had family that had already moved to Jordan that could vouch for them and they received a visa of sorts to leave the camp. No refugee is allowed to work which means that families have no income and are dependent on the aid provided to them. Each month, every individual receives a 24 JD (around 33 dollars) in coupons which can be used for food in the nearby town. However, the needs of these people breach much more than food. Medical assistance is nearly unheard of and the local hospital costs more than the families can afford. To deliver a child is around 400 JD (560 dollars) and if a C-section is needed it can cost up to 1000 JD (1,400 dollars). Aid is not given in medical insurance and the high cost of health care is a problem for Jordanian citizens as well, not just Syrian refugees. Education is limited for the children because transportation to schools and school supplies cost precious money and are not covered by the monthly stipend. It was stressed repeatedly that they simply need money, a complicated demand. The hierarchy of the settlements and the camps is uneven with both traditional leaders, such as Sheiks, and newer thug-like leaders that have emerged during this time of crisis. A gift of cash is not simple and could easily fall into the wrong hands and do no good to the community. A gift of cash is also an unsustainable donation made by Westerners that may fulfill immediate needs but does not allow for independent communities. However, the donations that we can make can do a huge difference if distributed and used effectively and properly. An interesting idea would be to create a healthcare fund that is withheld and isolated, only to be used for providing medical assistance or supplies. After our visit to the camp, the Dialogue and Project-GO group spent a while discussing sustainable options for assisting this settlement throughout our stay here. While the conversation got a bit heated with conflicting opinions about what aid is realistic and sustainable, it is obvious to anyone who sees these settlements that anything that can be done, school supplies, food, medical supplies, cash, benefits these people who have been unjustly torn from their homes.
While the situation is clearly desperate, I do not want to leave anyone with the image of a desperate and dependent population. The spirit and the hospitality of these people surprised me. Despite their difficult situation, they tell their difficult stories with dignity. One woman expressed that she neither supports the regime nor the rebellion but that she simply wishes she was never torn from her home. Another summed up their situation in one word, difficult. Yet they embraced us, laughed with us and made us feel like family. This is what I want anyone to take away from the situation. I met the sweetest people who simply introduced me to their families and their children and let me practice my struggling Arabic as I tried to understand and comprehend just how dramatically different their life is from mine. So, shukran, thank you, from the bottom of my heart.
Apologies for the lack of posts recently. Besides this excursion I have been exploring Amman on a scavenger hunt, enjoying the night life and the beautiful views and sweating excessively. Photos on Facebook.