Reaching out to Syrian refugees in Jordan: a personal journey
by Mark Hylarides
Soft brown eyes gazed on me with a mix of interest and hesitancy. A young girl and two little boys stood nervously gripped to their mother who sat on the concrete floor across from us, smiling. We reclined on thin cushions pressed against the walls of the small room — Syrian hospitality offers its guests the best seats. I could faintly smell Turkish coffee being prepared in the other room. A single overhead light illuminated peeling paint on the walls, and looking down, I faintly perceived intricate designs woven in the worn-out rug under my feet. I recollected how much this place resembled the apartment of the last refugee family we visited — very minimal.
We delivered emergency food packets and listened to personal stories. This was my third visit to Jordan since I started at MSIH, and I was finally piecing together collective themes from stories that refugees had shared with us. First, I noted that several families were missing an older male figure in the home — specifically, these men had either been killed or remained in Syria. In this context, mothers and women who lacked an older male representative seemed to experience greater levels of vulnerability from a cultural perspective. Second, many refugees had witnessed or experienced violent trauma in the past, including children, and critically needed counseling and/or other mental health services remained all but out of reach. Finally, becoming a refugee in Jordan posed a new set of challenges for families: refugees are not permitted to work in Jordan, nor are their children allowed in its public schools. These conditions have increased illiteracy among refugees and encouraged their widespread abuse.
In June 2015, I joined a small international team (anonymous) that had been organizing long-term projects with community leaders in Amman and other outlying towns. These projects reflected the desire of individuals and local communities to alleviate conditions for refugees in Jordan. During these trips, I took photographs and assisted in food distributions, and I have since grown impressed to become even more involved in the Jordan refugee crisis. From a greater perspective, I believe there is an opportunity to extend support to Syrian and other refugees in meaningful ways that can positively influence the region and beyond. In one particular case, a member of our team helped a pregnant Syrian woman obtain an emergency C-section after she had been refused admission into a hospital on financial grounds. I cannot properly describe the gratitude I felt from her entire family when we visited their home — she beamed showing off her healthy six-month-old daughter.
Currently, I am organizing the creation of educational packets in Arabic that can be included with emergency food distributions. While visiting refugees in their homes, I learned that families were deeply concerned about their children not being able to attend school; furthermore, I noticed a paucity of elementary educational resources in homes. For this reason, I envisioned creating educational packets for families that would be both fun for kids as well as promote basic Arabic literacy. I welcome all support in this project!