Relief International’s Emergency Response Coordinator, Mary Ana McGlasson, Reports from the Field in the Za’atari Refugee Camp, Jordan
January 18, 2013
The Emergency Response Coordinator, Mary Ana McGlasson, reports from the field in the Za’atari Refugee Camp, Jordan, where Relief International is providing life-saving relief.
Syria. I don’t know why it grabbed my attention so quickly-with so many disasters and tragedies happening around the world simultaneously, why did this one weigh so heavily on my mind? In the wake of the Arab Spring, there were plenty of stories of triumph and tragedy, but somehow, I found this one occupying a lot of my quiet thoughts. In August, the total numbers of refugees went from a steady trickle to a full-blown population exodus, doubling the numbers of refugees fleeing regionally, and forcing countless Syrians to run for safety within the country’s borders. By September, it was widely believed that there was no safe place for civilians inside Syria.
In the photo above, Mary Ana and and a little girl she met while working in the Za’atari Camp.
In response to this rapid influx of refugees, I deployed to Jordan to assess the situation within the newly-built Za’atari Camp and urban communities of Jordan near the Syrian border. Despite working day and night with little sleep, I found myself with constant motivation, and an unexplainable connection to the 15-month old crisis. It felt so good to actually be doing something, instead of sitting by and watching what could be one of the greatest tragedies in recent history.
I have now spent most of the past several months on the ground here in Jordan. The refugees here are middle-class, primarily educated people. Until weeks or months ago, they had modern houses with cars, bathrooms, kitchens. Now they live in tents, in the cold and windy desert, with winter worsening every day. Many people have shoes that are worn through from a long and difficult journey and they have no winter clothes.
Each day, when I walk through the camp, I am always shocked by two things: the harsh conditions of the camp and the unwavering generosity and hospitality of the people living here. Despite living through incredible tragedy and violence, often losing more than a few family members along their treacherous journey, I was invited into countless homes and I drank literally dozens of cups of tea and coffee. Sitting and drinking tea and listening to stories of survival, while sharing a quiet moment of solidarity is certainly one of the most important things I can do with my time.
In many tents, mothers have fashioned small shrines with photos of sons, daughters, and husbands in the corner, and they share with me stories of separation or worse. They share openly about the things they have seen and experienced, and it is important for them to help me understand that just weeks or months ago, they were living in houses with bathrooms and nice kitchens. One woman, Hanna*, traveled to the camp without her husband, 8 months pregnant, and with four other children by her side. She explained to me that she finds it difficult every day to learn how to live without the support of her husband, and without running water, winter clothing, privacy, and a sense of safety. “I don’t know how to live like this- in Syria, I had a nice house, a car, and a big kitchen. Now I share a kitchen with 20 other families, and my children cry because they are cold at night.”
During the New Year, families took time to pause and be thankful, but always with the caveat that they hope in 2014 they will be celebrating again in Syria with reunited families. “Isha’allah,” or “God willing,” they say, with brave faces, choking back tears.
We can hope, together-we can all hope that the crisis is resolved and the Syrian people can return to their homes to rebuild and live peacefully. But in the meantime, Relief International is doing everything we can to reduce suffering and provide hope.
What would you do if you were traumatized, cold, and out of your element, in a foreign place, with only icy water to wash yourself? There are at least 3500 families (about 17,500 people) without sufficient hygiene items-soap, shampoo, toothbrushes, etc. Yet, you are not permitted to leave the camp to go to the normal market in the neighboring town, and while there is a substantial market growing up within the camp, the available cash to make purchases is extremely low, and the price of soap is relatively high (almost $5 per bar of soap, compared with an average daily wage of $10 per day for those few who can find paid work within the camp, which is probably less than 1 percent.)
All I can offer now is my own inexhaustible passion and labor for this cause, and a small bar of soap. They need shoes, socks, mittens, underwear…heaters, fuel, and hope.
To learn more about RI’s life-saving relief programs assisting Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon, please click here.
*Name has been changed.