By Patrick Nicholson
Tahani and Rahaf are both Syrian refugees who volunteer for Caritas Jordan to help their compatriots.
“We had a normal life,” said Rahaf Al Jaber, a 20 year old woman from the Syrian capital Damascus. “We went to university. We had friends. We were even a little spoiled by our parents. And then suddenly we had nothing. We were cold, hungry and alone.”
Rahaf fled with her family to Jordan after her father was threatened. “My father received a phone call saying he should leave or he will be killed. We left the house straight away, without time to pack. We learned that our house was burned down later. We fled along back roads and through fields to avoid checkpoints. We walked across the border.”
They went to Zaatri refugee camp once they were in Jordan. “It’s in a desert. Life is very difficult,” she said. “We slept in tents with others families. There was nothing to do there. We were there 29 days. I counted every day.”
Then the family moved to Zarqa, a small town about an hour from the capital Amman. There they rent an apartment. “We were foreigners. We knew nobody here. We managed to make friend with our neighbours and they told me about Caritas.”
Her family came to the Caritas centre, which provides humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees like blankets and heaters, vouchers for food, personal hygiene kits, medical care, help with rent , counseling and informal education for children.
“Here in Caritas, I felt the spirit of love. I felt their mission and it was close to my heart,” said Rahaf. She began volunteering at the Caritas centre in Zarqa and has been there for three months. Each volunteer at the centre has a role, some work in the kitchen, some work on data entry, some teach extra classes to Syrian children.
Much of the work of Caritas Jordan is carried out by its 1000 volunteers, who are both Jordanian and Syrian. Christian or Muslim like Rahaf. “For me working in a Christian organisation is not strange,” she said. “I had many Christian friends back home. I just want to help Syrians, especially the children.”
Tahani Injal is another Syrian refugee who volunteers for Caritas in Zarqa. She is part of a peacekeeping committee that helps Syrian families settle in the town and improves relations with their Jordanian hosts. The training includes both Syrian and Jordanian volunteers.
“First we had different sessions on how to deal with people,” she said. “We learned how not to judge people. We learned about conflict resolution. It showed us how to deal with different situations. Many have suffered a lot, so need understanding.”
Tahani herself has direct experience of the 2 year old conflict in Syria. Her husband was seized by the military. She says he was kept in solitary confinement in a tiny room for 36 days. She says he was badly beaten, but thankfully released. “I remember the day he came home,” she said. “I didn’t even recognize him. He looked so bad. The children didn’t know who he was and were scared of him.”
Now she visits Syrian refugees in their homes and works with the wider Jordanian community. Jordanians have shown huge generosity in welcoming close over 380,000 refugees from Syrian. But tensions can arise. For example, sometimes the Syrian refugees struggle to pay rent and that can unsettle their landlords . The peacebuilding volunteers help the communities know each other better.
“The peacebuilding work helps a lot,” she said. “The relationship between Syrians and Jordanians is good.”