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.
November 18, 2012
Senior Program Officer, Virginia Zaunbrecher, writes from Darfur, Sudan, about how Relief International programs are keeping people alive and helping them move on with rebuilding their livelihoods.
Darfur is a place that is stuck in the middle. There is still too much conflict for most people to return home, but there is too little conflict to garner public attention. As aid workers, we find ourselves trying to triage the situation, and at the same time look for opportunities to help people move ahead. Two of the people I have met so far exemplify this dynamic.
Relief International is a primary care provider for a population of approximately half a million people in North Darfur, including 164,000 displaced persons. When visiting one of our malnutrition treatment centers in the Zam Zam camp for displaced persons last week, I met 18-month-old Fatima. She was, bluntly stated, the most malnourished child I have ever seen. She was tested for appetite and fed ready to use therapeutic food—popularly known as Plumpy-Nut. She was also referred to the main state hospital 15 km away because she required substantial medical treatment, but that is an extremely long way for her mother to travel with her, especially given that there are other children at home that need attention.
When I visited again this week, I was told that Fatima’s mother had not taken her to the hospital—a “defaulter” in nutrition program terms. Relief International outreach workers are contacting Fatima’s mother and encouraging her to visit the RI clinic (closer than the main site hospital)—which is no small feat in this maze of 164,000 people. Relief International has plans to open a stabilization center that can treat malnourished patients in the Zam Zam camp by 2013, so children like Fatima don’t have to travel for life-saving services.
Above, Staff weigh malnourished children at Relief International’s nutrition center in the Zam Zam Camp.
Just a short distance away at the Hassenfeld Community Center, I met someone who exemplified how the people of Darfur are trying to move forward. Saida is a widowed mother of five, whose husband was killed in the conflict. She fled to the Zam Zam three years ago with her children when they were forced from their village by fighting. Saida’s leg is injured, so she is unable to work as a day laborer, which severely limits her options. Undeterred, Saida hopes to provide a better life for her children. While they are at school, Saida visits the library at the Community Center. She studies books on work skills and English to improve her chances of getting a job. When Relief International was stocking the library, we asked the community what kind of books would be most useful. It is telling that their first request was items that could improve the capacity of people to find work.
Above, Saida (right, dressed in black) uses the library at the Community Center in the Zam Zam camp along with other women displaced by conflict.
Relief International staff find stories like this throughout North Darfur, and our programs here reflect that. We provide basic life-saving health and nutrition services; at the same time we are developing a livelihoods program to help displaced people move forward, despite the challenging situation. And every day we hope we encounter fewer Fatimas and have the privilege to meet more Saidas.
RI’s programming in Darfur is supported by the USAID Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, the Common Humanitarian Fund, and individual donors.
March, 30 2012
Today’s photo update from Relief International volunteer and Deputy Community Service Coordinator, Bashir Mohamed, reporting from the field:
This girl is grinding Sorghum as part of routine meal preparation. Her name is Sarina and she is nine years old. The baby she is carrying is one of her twin nephews, Younis.
Sarina’s family, including her father Bell, mother Saima, and twin nephews, Younis and Julliet, arrived in Doro four months ago. They had fled from Belila, which is located in the Blue Nile State of Sudan, because of the increasing violence and conflict in the community.
Sarina is grinding Sorghum in the picture below.
March 14, 2012
Relief International volunteer, Bashir Mohamed, reports from the Doro Refugee Camp of Mabaan, South Sudan. He is currently setting up tents as a part of a project that provides around the clock assistance to newly arrived refugees and local families in Mabaan.
Today is my fourth week volunteering with Relief International as the Deputy Community Service Coordinator in the well-known Doro refugee camp of Mabaan, South Sudan. I am currently working on operations for a shelter project that is being funded by UNHCR and implemented by Relief International and have watched as our refugee team in Mabaan work around the clock providing assistance to both the newly arrived refugees as well as those who are settled here.
Today, as part of our routine activities, our team pitched 27 tents in the camp. Mrs. Hajara is the female head of her household and one of 27 families selected from Sorkum (a Doro camp sub-section) to receive a tent from Relief International. Before she received the tent, Hajara and her family of eight did not have a proper shelter. As you can see in the photo, all they had was a small hut that consisted of poles covered by whatever the family could find (mainly pieces of cloth, empty Sorghum sacks, and plastic sheets).
Mrs. Hajara, her husband, and their seven children had fled from Surkum village, located in the Blue Nile state of Sudan, due to the eruption of violence and internal wars in the region. They were not able to bring many of their belongings and her husband went back later to retrieve what they had left behind. Mrs. Hajara has not heard of her husband since, but she hopes that her husband will one day come back home safely.
These two photos depict Mrs. Hajara and her family’s situation before and after they received the tent from Relief International. The photo above was taken in front of their old hut, while the second photo was taken in front of their newly pitched tent.
"Now we own a house, it’s not a tent for us, but before we were homeless," said Mrs. Hajara after receiving her new tent.
As you would notice from the faces of the second photo below, Mrs. Hajara, her children and I are all happy because the family´s lack of shelter nightmare is past.