Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Why I am going to Jordan?

A little over a month ago, I was pondering where to spend my two-month summer holidays. At the same time, I was introduced by a friend to an informal group called "Action for Relief" which was raising funds to donate to the Red Crescent Emergency Fund for Syrians. I became involved in gathering used items and selling them in Flea markets (some of my Emirati students even got involved in the project) and I began to feel happier than I have in a long, long time. As I was preparing for a flea market in Abu Dhabi, I was printing articles that we could post at our Flea market booth to raise awareness about the plight of displaced Syrians. I ran across an article from the Jordan Times (Click here to read the article) that absolutely broke my heart. I quickly closed my office door before I broke down and cried. The picture at the top was particularly poignant:
Syrian children take shelter from the sun in the Jordan Valley last month. According to relief agencies, dozens of unaccompanied Syrian children entered the Kingdom on Sunday (Photo by Taylor Luck)
I thought about my own sweet nieces and nephews whom I love so much and how incredibly frightening and terrible it must be for young children to risk their lives to leave their country and every familiar thing, only to lose their parents and end up in a foreign place alone. At that point, I knew exactly the answer to the question of where to spend my summer. Just a couple of days later, I had a conversation with my colleague and friend, Ruba, who is from Amman. She encouraged me to follow through with this idea and promised to meet up with me when she's home during Ramadan (the last few weeks of my stay). In the intervening 5 weeks since discovering this article, I have really, really been blessed with one connection after another...friends in Abu Dhabi have introduced me to friends in Jordan who have connections to volunteer projects that benefit displaced Syrian families and also other projects working with Palestinian youth in refugee camps in Northern Jordan. Already the friends and contacts I've made there in Jordan have been so kind and helpful and encouraging. They have been so generous to offer any help they can give, from searching for accommodation for me to putting me in touch with friends and colleagues who can help me find ways to volunteer. I can't wait to get there and meet them!

 As a westerner living in a foreign country, I have made the observation that many of us have a tendency to come to volunteer with our own agenda already firmly in mind. While our hearts are in the right place, we are sometimes less than 100% effective because we ASSUME how we can best help people and often don't take time to LISTEN to the ideas, stories, and needs of those we serve. So my goal is to be as open-minded as possible, to listen, gain understanding, and then give whatever I can to uplift the people I serve. That means going to Jordan without a firm plan or definite idea of exactly what I'll do. I hope to work with 2 or 3 different charitable organizations...some formal, some informal projects (time will tell what the needs are and if I'm useful to their projects). I hope to teach/nurture/encourage/advise/play with young people, with the hope that perhaps I can bring a smile to their faces and help them forget (even just for a little while) the sadness they have experienced in their lives. I KNOW that I will learn so much from them! I hope to share some of what I learn from them here, in this blog.

 I am trying to arrange to live with a local family so that I can practice my Arabic and immerse myself in the community. I have an image in my mind of what that will be like: kind-hearted family complete with teenage daughter(s) who become like a sister to me, sweet grandmother who teaches me how to cook Fattoush and Hommous and makes me expand my Arabic Vocabulary because she doesn't speak English, etc... Well, it may not exactly come true (which is fine), but you just never know! If things fall into place in the next three weeks as they did in the last three weeks, it's going to be a wonderful, wonderful experience. Come along with me on this journey, and lets see what we discover!