On the northern border of Jordan, near Syria, there is a small school where children attend classes on geography, anatomy, art and more. Like any school, the walls are lined with colorful drawings and the space is filled with child-sized furniture. Yet, this is not just any school. It is temporary, housed in a small tent, and tasked with educating children who have spent the majority of their lives as refugees.
The school, constructed by the Orthodox Initiative (OI) with major and ongoing support from Global Ministries and Week of Compassion, is located in one of the five major informal refugee settlements which are scattered across northern Jordan. Children comprise 60% of the population of these camps. Since the families here are disconnected from the major government-recognized camps, they lack access to government-provided services, like schools. They are also often overlooked by international aid organizations and, consequently, are some of the most vulnerable people seeking refuge here in Jordan.
Jawahar, a young woman from Syria and a refugee herself, has taken on the responsibility of running this school and teaching the children every single day. Due to her personal understanding of the trauma that they have faced, she takes special care to make the lessons engaging, even therapeutic, for the children.
Creativity plays a central role. Before Mother's Day, Jawahar ensured that children received a variety of art supplies so they could make cards for their mothers. Each child also received flowers to plant in their mother's honor. The experience allowed the class not only to learn about poetry, art and plant-life, but also express to themselves and experience a sense of normalcy through a celebration of a familiar holiday.
Dr. Peter Makari, Global Ministries Area Executive for the Middle East, has visited the families in these camps on multiple occasions. During his visits, he is reminded time and again that "these families are interested in the same things we are: a stable and safe life, opportunities for their kids, and peace." The familiarity of celebrations like these make plain our shared humanity with the families here.
As a Christian organization, committed to serving all of God's children with honor and dignity, the OI operates in partnership at every level. They host focus groups with women, men and young adults in the camps in order to hear their needs first-hand, learn about their experiences and develop response plans according to the needs that the refugees identify themselves.
"In a time when we are facing the highest level of displacement globally, and the numbers of refugees are staggering, it is easy to forget that each number represents a real person with an individual story and experience," says Makari. He admires the Director of the OI, Wafa Goussous, for her personal participation in these focus groups, saying "she takes great time to talk to the refugees and hear what they need." The OI's commitment to listening to refugee voices in these focus groups foreground the values of respect and dignity for each person.
These sessions have redirected OI's work, revealing basic goods as a priority need. Consequently, they make monthly distributions of chicken and lentils, as well as regional staples like Burgol and manakeesh to the families. Since winters and nights in this area can be quite cold, OI also provided winter clothing vouchers to 152 adults and children, allowing recipients to select a pair of wool socks, gloves, a hat and a scarf of their own choosing from a local store. They also make monthly distributions of detergents, soaps, diapers and feminine care kits.
Makari emphasizes the importance and the impact that the presence of the OI has for the refugee families living here. "Just the fact that Wafa, the OI and all their supporters from the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and United Church of Christ are aware of them and care about them provides a great affirmation of their presence and life in these difficult circumstances. It makes a real difference in real people's lives." Your gifts to Week of Compassion send a message far and wide: where suffering occurs, Christ is present through the generous acts of those who are inspired by his life and word.