Our morning started at Collateral Repair Project, an organization running a community center for refugees in a neighborhood of Amman. The center provides approximately 150 families with food vouchers to local grocery stores on a monthly basis, though demand far exceeds capacity at this moment in time. The center provides a number of services in addition to food vouchers, such as an after school program for youth, the Supergirls group that focuses on empowerment of local girls, men’s and women’s support groups, computer literacy classes, English classes, and a host of other programs. Some of the unique offerings were a women’s beauty school class on hair and make-up and a women’s handicraft group that sold their products for a small income. On our tour we saw the computer lab, Supergirls and after school space, the living room and courtyard, and a new flat rented by the program in order to comfortably offer all of the services they do. Many thanks to Anya and Rob for their engagement with us!
Undoubtedly the most profound part of the CRP visit was speaking with Evan, a refugee from Iraq. Evan was a photographer before he was forced to leave his village by ISIS. He told us just a bit of his story, then showed us images he had taken when the Iraqi army liberated his village. He had images of his home, churches and shops that were burned, and a number of buildings that were completely destroyed. He even showed us a series he did with Santa posing in front of some of the buildings in the village, bringing the gift of liberation to the community. Even though his community was liberated, he reminded us that animosity between people in the area is still present and the difficulty of reconciling the country should not be overlooked. We were extremely moved by his presentation, not simply because his images and story were so powerful, but because he asked us to think about why this could have been allowed to happen. As the group sat in silence unable to answer, we shared a remarkably human and heartbreaking moment in which we could only sit and empathise with another’s pain we will never truly comprehend. This question stayed with us the rest of the day, coming up at meals, transitions, and reflection time.
After our morning at CRP, we enjoyed a delicious lunch on a patio outside the campus of the University of Jordan. Our afternoon session was conducted by Alethea Osborne with the Countering Violent Extremism branch of the West Asia North Africa Institute. We began the session with an exploration of regional factors particular to the Levant that were important for contextualization. Diving deeper into Jordan-specific vulnerabilities, we were able to synthesize much of the information Alethea presented with what we had learned in our earlier sessions. Much of the message was centered on investigating underlying systemic causes that drive individuals to extremism. The final message was one of empathy. We were implored to explore this issue from a human security perspective, investigating causes that could be veiled or hidden far below the surface of the issue. After the presentation, we spoke at length about the number of issues identified parallel the experience of some in our own country. Shukrun to Alethea for her superb presentation!
We ended the day with a panel of workers in the humanitarian sector: Sadal from UNHCR, Cate from Mercy Corps and Julia and Amjad from NRC. Having them speak to us after a few days meeting with other organizations was perfect timing. We had become accustomed to the many acronyms used by the various groups: CVE, GBV, CBOs etc. We were also able to absorb more deeply the work that they do with refugees in Syria both in the camps, the communities and in Amman. In a way, it helped to put the pieces together that we had been collecting by hearing from different people. Their passion, dedication and relentless efforts despite the daunting tasks facing them was inspiring. When we asked what messages we should bring home to our students, they spoke of sharing stories to foster empathy, that the struggle for freedom is constant, we are all connected in an interdependent world, the need for fun ding especially in light of recent US cutbacks, resources are limited and we must all learn to conserve, seeing the parallels between the social issues in the US and Jordan…and more….our notebooks are filled! Lessons learned will become lessons taught. Shurkran (Thank you)!