Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Syrian Refugees in Jordan

Thank you for your donation.
    It went directly to the refugee camps in Jordan. These camps are full of God’s children who need to be reminded that they are loved and that there are those out there, like you, who remember them and love them and are willing to make sacrifices in your own lives to improve theirs.  Generally when people ask if they can give me money I try to use it on a specific person and hand deliver it.  Such as the set up of the camps and the extensive amount of travel time and limited resources in the area I was not able to hand things out personally as I usually do.  I am happy to let you know that if you donated goods (like underwear, scarves, or baby carriers) then I was able to distribute these to people either through social workers, or by sliding them into the pockets, scarves or secret handshakes with those that seemed in most need of them.  We often took two to three people into our little closet triage room where they were separated from the masses.  This is where I did most of the subtle distribution of goods ;).
    If you donated cash, whereas there were a million things I could have tried to procure and distribute, there was very little time and very little resources available to me due to travel time and work in the camps. The biggest need we found was medications for those with chronic conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, and even those who had received transplants (kidney and heart) prior to having to flee. As a group, we pooled our money with SAMS and these connections to supply these medications to the people.  There were pharmacists in our group originally from Jordan and Syria who had family member who worked in distribution. I know this is likely slightly different than how you thought your money might be spent but through these connections we able to get medications at a very good price and supply these people with 3 months worth of medications. If you are unhappy about how your money was spent, I am happy to reimburse you out of my own pocket.
    The Lord is performing miracles and granting kindnesses to people all over the world and He allows us to be a part of it, if we want to be. And let me tell you, we will be witnesses to immense miracles if we look for them, even in the worst of circumstances.

It is difficult to write something like simply because of the magnitude of it. I wish I could tell each person’s story because surely each person’s story deserves to be told. Because of the language barrier and massive amount of people that needed to be seen I know very few details of each person’s story but I can also tell you that there are miracles taking place and that there are incomprehensibly good people working hard to alleviate suffering. Meeting, getting to know, and working along side these people reminds me that despite how much evil and consequent suffering there is in this world, that there is still light. That there is still good. It is quieter than the evil, but it is stronger, and it is changing lives.

One such miracle occurred in the last minute arrival of two unexpected donors. A company entitled, Medtronics that makes medical supplies and LDS charities. Somehow these donors quietly got connected to SAMS (Syrian American Medical Society-the group I went with). I do not know the details of how Medtronics became involved but I do know that of LDS charities. It seems quite happenstance but the results of their last minute involvement changed everything.

I happen to belong to the LDS church (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) but I did not have any affiliation with the church for this particular project, but recognized another “Mormon” when I saw one.  On night one of our arrival in Jordan (where we would be visiting the Al Za’atari Syrian refugee camp) I walked in to our first official meeting and saw two people who I had a suspicion were also LDS. As the meeting went on they were introduced and spoke a few words. They told of how just a week (or two??) before they had seen the local Jordanian office for SAMS and had decided to stop in. The organizer and chair of our group, Majd Isreb, was in Jordan for just one day and was in the office that day. It turns out these two LDS persons were service missionaries. Their primary responsibility is to seek out those in need and to evaluate what needs to be done and determine if the church can help. The missionaries recognized the amount of good SAMS was doing and asked how they could help. With the donation of heart stents supplied by Medtronics and miraculous assembling of an instant cardiac team of physicians the only thing left was lots of money. The LDS missionaries asked SAMS to draft a proposal, which was submitted and approved in a matter of days.

You guys, paperwork doesn’t go through that fast. It did. The money came through and while my  team was in Jordan, over 100 life-saving heart surgeries were performed for refugees. Over 100!

Generally, if people ask if they can send money to me I think of it as me being an on ground proxy for them.  Basically, it is them doing the good, I am just the messenger. I use it kind of in a nickel and dime sort of way to provide for needs I see along the way on a very small, individual scale basis. This time, because of the last minute miracle of heart surgeries and overload of work we were doing within the camp itself, as well as the difficulty of obtaining and more extreme difficulty of distributing goods, I wasn’t able to do that exactly.

As the group would meet and discuss what was going on and what was needed we found ourselves with more needs created by the miracle of being able to perform so many heart surgeries. You may or may not know that basically any heart surgery requires one to be on life long medications. SAMS, not wanting to be irresponsible or short-sighted in their care (a major thing I respect about this organization) knew that these people would need follow up care and medications. One of the volunteers-and a great force for good-was a physician who had come to volunteer with SAMS. She is originally from Jordan and has family there. One family member in particular who was a pharmacist and could get medications at a wholesale price. I took all of the money I received and donated it to SAMS in order to provide these medications and other long term medications needed to keep people safe and insure they got real, proper care. I hope that you feel as ecstatic about how long-reaching and real the affects of your charity will go with how I used it. Given the circumstances, I knew that in this case, SAMS and its volunteers and connections, in this particular case could do more with it than I could on my lonesome this time. Although I plan to continue to do as much as I can within my small sphere of influence, I feel that God took my small sphere and combined with just the right people at the right time and magnified both mine and your contributions to make it have much more far-reaching effects than I could have on my own in this instance. And I am grateful to Him for it.

If for any reason you are unsatisfied with how this money was spent, please let me know and I will pay you out of my own pocket to reimburse your gift.

Other places where you money/donations went

Because of the conditions and number of patients we were seeing this wasn’t possible. I had no time to discuss much of anything other than main medical complaints and their vital signs.  Unfortunately, the camp life culture and scarcity of supplies has made it difficult to help.

Two places where items were given away.

We quickly learned that we couldn’t give anything out to children, particularly young children because they would flaunt what they had been given and get hurt (sometimes badly) and have it taken from them.  We would be overwhelmingly swarmed by children wanting something too, (which also often resulted in children being hurt).  It came down to either having to hand things out to people who happened to be carrying a bag or large pockets that day that had extra room we could slip things into and that we felt off intuition could be discreet. I would estimate that approximately 2/3 of the items donated were distributed through the psych-social program set up by SAMs.
After spending my first day with this program I felt very comfortable allowing this.  The program is set up very much like a referral visiting teaching program. (For those of you unfamiliar with this idea it is a program implemented by the LDS church. Members of the church go and visit each other to offer support, friendship and resources when needed.)  Because 80% of Syrian refugees living in Jordan actually live outside the camps along side of the Jordanians, there are massive needs there that also go unnoticed. Those volunteering for, or employed by, the SAMs outreach clinic will visit Syrians they know about and ask them if they know of any refugees.  They will also ask Jordanians on the streets if they know of any Syrians living in the area.  It felt quite a bit like “tracting” or knocking doors, as missionaries often do. I was impressed with the great amount of effort put into finding and helping refugees.  Because they do house visits and professional needs assessments and because of the difficulty of distributing in the camps, I felt more than comfortable sending a lot of your physical items donated with those doing the outreach within cities. They could distribute to those most in need. The other 1/3 were handed out by myself and other people I worked with within the small clinic inside the camp.

I spent my time at camp Al Zaatari, which is the biggest camp.  In fact, it has now become the fourth largest populated “city” in all of Jordan-even though it is not even technically a city-or a permanent residence. But other volunteers found the items useful and also took some items to various camps they were working in to hand out when needed.

Scarves.  They scarves were beautiful.  Thank you Saratoga stake. I am not a scarf connoisseur, but one of the muslim women volunteering along side of me mentioned that they were all very high quality, exceptionally beautiful scarves.  I commend you on your taste and generosity ;). I gave these out mostly to young women that I felt likely had a desire to feel more beautiful and fashionable in such gloomy circumstances.  I also found one girl, who was clearly new to wearing a hijab. (Hijab: the scarves worn over their heads for modesty.  The hair is covered because it is thought to be one of a woman’s most beautiful features.  Girls begin wearing the hijab once their menstrual cycle begins-many choose to start wearing it around age 10-12 at the beginning of the new year so as not to be embarrassed by the obvious announcing of receiving a first period with the sudden appearance of the hijab right after.) I thought it was unlikely this 12-ish old girl had a wide variety and I hope it made her feel special and beautiful.  I have to tell you, she was sweetly humble and very excited to receive it.  Both because she was chosen out of everyone to receive a gift, but most especially because I could tell she actually loved the gift itself. I gave her two :).

Underwear/hygiene products:  These items were handed out through the psych/social program set up by the group I went with and by myself and fellow volunteers in the camps themselves.  We were limited to being able to give them out to those we were felt could be discreet and were lucky enough to be carrying bags that had extra space that we could slip things into. 

Soccer Balls/Frisbees.
I somehow ended up with two hidden away in my luggage. (Guess that means I’ll have to go back.)

I also really like to provide pictures, but partly due to religious reasons, and partly because I am sure people want to maintain their dignity and do not want to look helpless and thirdly for security reasons.  If their picture were to surface they may be located and targeted, or more painfully, their families who have either not been able to escape or who have chosen to stay in Syria could be punished.

the kids. oh the kids.
Hug line.

As I mentioned before it was difficult to give anything to the children. It was also difficult to really play any games with them that included an item. From soccer balls being stolen so that no one can play with them, to frisbees being thrown on roofs to ruin the game. Even handing out stickers turned to chaos and resulted in injuries. The smallest gesture of drawing funny faces on hands with a pen even became troublesome. It hurt me so much to see all of this.  I know they all want these things-along with attention, but I could not reconcile doing something the resulted in children getting hurt or abused. Lines didn’t work. In fact, they seemed to make things worse.  The bullies would just off to the side and beat up (not slightly) and take from the kids who had waited in line to receive whatever it was we were trying to gift.  All the kids new and understood the idea of a line but with the bullies and the pushing and the fights breaking out in the lines, it wasn’t working. I thought (even prayed) about what I could do and give to these kids that would not cause them to get hurt or have a game ruined seconds into it.  Hugs. They need hugs. They can’t be stolen, taken, or ruined. I swear to you, the strangest thing happened.  I know it sounds almost too cheesy to be true, but after the very first hug or two that was given out the best line you have seen formed.  There was minimal pushing and shoving, and the bit that was done did not have the same violence that seemed to occur in the other lines we had tried to establish. I gave the absolute best hugs I could give. Nice and tight and long and full of laughter. The kids would get their hug and then immediately jump right back in line for another one over and over again. One boy in particular, determined to keep a scowl on his face came back more than anyone else. He would get to the front of the line and stare me down, a bit like a dare. I would stare right back and squeeze him till the edges of his mouth cracked. After several hugs or this little guy (probably about seven years old) the stare down lasted longer than usual and his smile was trying to break through even before I hugged him. I waited. He tried to fight the creeping smile. When I waited before hugging him he started nudging me. His arms were folded. Always. He couldn't bring himself to unfold them so he would basically do a little body slam/nudge with his arms all wrapped up. He bumped into me repeated, the anticipation pulling at the corners of his mouth until the best hug I could muster wrapped around him and he'd stay there, glowing, trying to not to smile, arms folded. Then, to the back of the line again to wait his turn for another hug. It might been the most productive hour of my life to date. Remember, over half of people living in refugee camps are children. Many of them are unaccompanied, meaning they have no parents.  Some of them are known to have been killed, some are separated from them still living in Syrian or other places, and for some, we just don’t know. The other thing to remember that even the children who have parents, may not have parents who are able to fully devote themselves to their children.  These people have seen terrible things, witnessed horrific offenses and experienced crushing loss.  As a result, many have PTSD, are depressed, and have a myriad of other issues they are dealing with.  Unfortunately, what sometimes happens is that they are not able to function as they would like as parents. At best the children are left to fend for themselves because of the depression of the parent.  There are other extremes you can  imagine that include violence, abuse and impatience with the children.

Perhaps one of the most difficult things for me to see was the desire so many had to contribute, to help, to be productive. Syrians in general tend to be very well educated. The camps are full of people who are used to living very meaningful, productive lives, and in order to stay alive, they are now sitting in boxes in the middle of the desert with nothing to do. They want to move on, they want to cope and survive and overcome but with nothing to do but literally sit. and wait. and sit some more. they are fighting hard to hold on to sense of self and dignity. Seeing people come through the clinic who were once very self-sufficient and who are longing to help themselves and their people and now being forced to live like beggars is hard to watch.
After seeing so much of this, one man in particular that came through the clinic broke me. He came into our little triage area (a 4 foot by foot room that we were shove 6 people into at a time to take histories on before sending them to the doctors). I don’t even remember what his medical complaint was, for some reason I don’t think he had anything serious.  As I was taking his vital signs he said in perfect English, “Let me help you.”

“I am a literature professor. I can help. I can translate, I speak perfect English. I can speak to the people. I can help you understand each other.” He tried so hard to keep himself poised so as not to sound like he was begging. It took everything he had to present himself clearly and professionally. I can’t quite accurately describe what it is like to see a man, who truly does and wants to have so much to give, do all he can to hold on to his dignity and identity, grasping at any situation to find a purpose and something to take his mind off of the horrors he’s seen and experience. (I am sobbing as I write this-as I have done so many times before while trying to write this. This story alone is what perhaps has taken me so long to be able get this out to you-it’s difficult to relive...and to see through tears enough to get this out.)

The truth of it is. He could have been very useful to us. We needed translators, perhaps more than anything. But because of the organization and the difficulty of keeping order in an impromptu, what was supposed to be temporary housing for a few, that has turned into 100,000+ people the camp is very strict about who helps in the clinics (they came by and checked out credentials from time to time).  They have their own local staff that we have to work with on their terms, by their rules.  We weren’t allowed to let this man help. Watching hope for a purpose drain from his eyes as we told him he couldn’t help broke me. Broke me in places so deep I feel the broken pieces every day. Now I sounded like I was begging as I told this man that we do need him. He would be useful and I wish we could use him. I frantically searched and asked those around me what could be done, how can this man with so much to give not be allowed to help us in our (and his) time of need. I tried to convey to him...everything: that I saw him. that I understood him. That I had so much respect for him and his fight to persevere.  I don’t know that I conveyed anything other than a helpless girl that was of less use in the camp than he could have been. The only difference being that I didn’t live there, I’m not trapped. And I happen to have a passport from a different country. As he walked out, with a little more of the light he’d been fighting to hold on to draining from his eyes, I broke down and sobbed-much like I’m doing now. The only other nurse on the trip, Barbara-who had been many times, simply closed the door to the triage room and let me cry.  When I finally managed to put myself back together, we opened the door to the triage room and went back to work. The man was already lost in the crowd. It’s not right. It’s not fair. And I will do anything I can to make sure that these people are seen and fought for.

1 comment:

Katie Cross said...

Amy, this is soul-changing stuff. You did a great job relaying the information, but you're the best proxy there is for stuff like this. We both know that none of that was happenstance. 100 life saving surgeries? I'm teary-eyed just reading about it. It's so reassuring that miracles really do happen. And you were an active, amazing part of it.

No doubt you, and all those people, will never be the same.

Keep going, girl power. You. Are. Amazing.