Friday, March 4, 2011

UNHCR and the Lybia crisis

The new crisis of refugees from Lybia. UNHCR is in need of support and resources.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The World Through Children's Eyes

By Elizabeth Hall

My first impressions when I travel are always colors, sounds, smells and feelings, not what types of cars people drive, or if the “west” has found its way into the culture through globalization. I don’t notice how physically people seem “different” from where I come from. Instead I look at the brilliant colors of dyes in the fabric they place over their skin. I look at the way the sun shines its rays on mosques, temples and buildings so different from my own neighborhood. I listen for chaos. I hear the sounds of transportation- bicycle wheels turning against rusty chains, grinding on the rocky dirt roads, I hear rickshaws, buses; brakes squealing at the chaos of others crossing the road improperly. I smell dry earth. I smell lack of rain, or sometimes too much rain. And most importantly I feel. I look at the eyes of those who I encounter. I feel if they are sad or happy. I feel through their eyes if they are hungry, or lost. I feel their curiosity, and I give a look of curiosity back at the eyes that meet mine. Through my travels and research what always impacts me the most is what I learn from children. While it is not always easy to communicate with them due to language and time restraints, through their eyes I somehow understand their story.

On this trip, I was fortunate enough to grasp a glimpse of what children in Jordan feel on a daily basis. Through the eyes of Palestinian children, I felt an unknown distress. They have been taught that their lives were not meant to be lived in Jordan, and that they will go “home” someday. Until that day, they will live with a mentality to fight an unknown (to them) war. Through the eyes of Iraqi children, I felt an excitement for change. These kids are living in transition, most likely born in Iraq, growing up in Jordan, but having the expectation of going back to Iraq soon. I felt energy through the glimpses I stole. Through the eyes of a Bedouin child, I saw boredom and curiosity, little chance at an education, moving from place to place, the outside world brought to them through the lives of travelers visiting their tents.

Through the eyes of Jordanian children, I felt hope. Programs are being created for the youth in Jordan that promote activism and growth. Many are given a chance to emerge from their shells and speak out about the issues that concern them the most.

Several of the organizations we visited were focused on youth programs. For example at the Ecumenical Studies Center, Father Qais spoke about “liberating the illiterates” through programs focused on women’s cooperatives and youth groups. A few of the youth participants spoke to us directly about their own programs. They set their own agendas; they choose the issues that they feel are the most important for their age group to combat. While they may not reach large amounts of kids, they are creating a future for themselves. And while sometimes it takes baby steps and small groups to make a difference; it has the potential to create big changes down the road.

We also learned about INJAZ, which helps create economic opportunities for Jordanian youth through courses, job placement and volunteering ( And we were fortunate enough to visit the Princess Basma Youth Resource Centre, a part of the Jordanian Hashemite Fund for Human Development. We sat with youth at the centre and listened to the issues they face today, and heard about the programs they’ve created to work with their peers. Through after school programs that provide a safe haven off the streets, to a radio station run by the youth themselves, they are learning basic life skills and how to be active in their communities (

Of course there are other programs we didn’t visit that are helping children in Jordan. For example Save the Children has emergency programs for displaced Iraqi children, youth development programs, early childhood education and health programs. With over 60 percent of the population in Jordan is under the age of 24, it is imperative that programs of this magnitude continue and grow to fill the gaps of those who are not reached(

And while it is great that these youth are able to join some of these groups and really make a difference in their neighborhoods, ultimately the parents are the major influencers in a child’s life. The question is: what type of influence are the parents creating? Are they planting negative or positive energy into a child’s mind? Most likely this influence will direct the mentality of the children as they grow and form their own opinions about their lives. If the situations that the refugees face in their homelands are not solved soon, what will become of the future? Generations of refugees within the Palestinian community have faced the same outcome, over and over. They do not know what life is like to NOT be a refugee. They only know lives of lacking resources and support, and yet they chose to keep the mentality of a refugee because they refuse to know anything different.

As I re-read my journal from the trip, I find the same questions written down that are in my head right now. What do the refugee children think about their current situation? What are they taught about their family’s history? Do they have a negative connotation about their own lives? Or is it possible for them to be positive and have goals in life that will help them succeed in life. Lastly, what do they hope for in the future? I would be curious to see the results of interviews with both Palestinian refugees that were born in Jordan and now are grown up, as well as Iraqi and Palestinian youth. Instead I will go on, and continue to travel, and look into the eyes of those I meet to feel their story. I can only hope that the day I return to Jordan, I feel different stories, ones that have happier endings.

There was a reference on the trip to life being like a mosaic tile. I like to think a child’s life is mosaic. Every child needs a home, and they need a family with parents that encourage them in a positive manner. Children need food, water, creativity, nurturing, education, and laughter. Without these things, pieces of a child’s mosaic are missing and it fails to continue to grow and be complete. November 20th is the World Day of Prayer and Action for Children across the world. It is almost ironic that I write this just six days before, but fitting, for now I know I can do something to get involved ( I think it is important through local events, as well as when we travel, that we take time to sit with children of all backgrounds and feel their story.
Photo Credits: Elizabeth Hall

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Relief work for simple minded people

SPS international classes can give you headaches, heartaches, bad cases of anger, teacher hating thoughts, reminders of the upcoming revenge of Moctezuma, and once in a lifetime opportunities. That was the case when meeting with Dr. Mohammed Al-Hadid in Amman Jordan. He is the Chairman of the Standing Commission of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, or as I like to see it, the number one person in the area of disaster relief services in the world. The opportunity to meet Mr. Al-Haddid gave the whole group the opportunity to gain invaluable insights on issues of development, disaster relief and preparedness, basic understanding of the Red Cross-Red Crescent-Red Crystal commission and his personal views on practical operations.

MR. Hadid bases much of his work in a philosophy of inclusion, understanding, and cross-cultural communication in order to achieve peace and harmony. His work is based in a principle of impartiality that has allowed him to contribute to have the Red Cross-Red Crescent operate within many conflict areas in the world and with special success in the Israeli and Palestinian territories. This is also represented by a great adaptability that has led the organization to develop and employ three distinct emblems that can ensure acceptance, timely provision of services, obstacle breaching and the hard to accomplish goal to save lives. Here is where one of his main teachings takes place for those who work in the NGO-development world. Workers in this field often become dogmatic, entropic, and righteous while navigating with the flag of our causes and areas of expertise. Mr. Al-Hadid answers to these attitudes by pointing that things are quite simple when we focus and are guided solely by the real mission of helping those in need, not the political or personal agendas.

One of the examples of his speech of putting racial, religious and political interest aside is the collaboration he helped develop for Jordan with the Ben Gurion University in Be’er Sheva Israel. This in order to train young Jordanian paramedics on emergency medical response; this is a training that would have been available to Jordanians only by literally going to the other side of the world, and at a much greater expense. This example shows not only practicality, but focuses on the real development of infrastructure. Another lesson that can be learned from this man is the one of humility, the western perception of the person that in order to become great one has to do bigger projects as one progresses trough hierarchies, is contrasted by his humility. Mr. Al-Hadid has decided to step down from his position at the end of his current term, not because he is tired or retiring, but because he has a new mission to accomplish; to focus in more local issues in Jordan. I’ll think of him the next time when my colleagues dream and theorize about great international projects and politics, and down the local issues. I’ll think of him when I feel myself out of focus with the personal missions in my life.

Posted By Tomas Ramirez
Photo Credits: Elizabeth Hall

Monday, August 2, 2010

Walking through Jordan and seeing one’s life

After the landing in desert land and the clearing of the intelligence officers, Jordan opened its doors, I opened my heart, and a hectic clash in a dream world ensued. A dream world of split personalities, where at night, or any given time during the day; Palestine is Chiapas, Iraq is Colombia, The US gives without interest, the Bedouins are Navajos in the southwest who dream of air conditioned skies, and Jordan is the land where nothing bad happens. This place is too much like home, I understand much of it and this brings me a certain level of comfort, but I don’t like it. To my cynical eyes, this country is like any other where the indigenous and the poor learn to survive without food or water, escape the spell of modernity while the hierarchies have a first dream world and those with plenty of wealth can dress and behave any way they want without regard to Sharia law. This is indeed a place of contradictions.
As the jetlag subsides and welcome greetings fade away, I see a structure oversaturated with ministers, their own political plans, and personal issues. I wonder how is that the many ministers can get anything accomplished if they are subject to political, personal and royal agendas? Is this a progressive country, and the symbol of Arab moderation it proclaims in the media or a military state? I feel in my most resentful self that the politics of hypocrisy and convenience also have a place within Jordanian society just like in the American continent. I get very confused, sad and even angry to see the many disparities in this country that are often accompanied with a denial. In this regard I feel too familiar, and maybe that’s why I get easily agitated, and find myself trying to calm down. As we visit different agencies, I feel very lucky to hear of people’s histories of survival in an environment with so many restrictions.
I find myself in a very fragile state, even physically, and I get skeptical when I see the two different initiatives on youth development, the one sponsored by the Ecumenical Studies Center and the Bint Talal organization sponsored by princess Basma. The youth in the first one address issues that are real to their communities and daily lives, the Bint Talal center has almost a cosmetic appearance of smiles and no scars, this is hard to imagine when working with what I am explained to be a poverty stricken population by the director of the center. As the visit progresses, it is hard for me to find people to openly talk about drugs and crime, most representatives say that is nonexistent or under control. Every time I see this picture I have to ask, where are those who we do not see, what they do to survive, and is anybody doing something for them? As I read and see more about Jordan drug trafficking and addiction, gang fights, honor killings, Iraqi-Jordanian feuds and identity politics I grow weary of the degree of denial.
Another reminder of the power of the systems and structures is present during the visits to the municipalities. I feel that the impact of these encounters is intangible, yet backed up by very real institutions. When visit the municipalities of Amman, karak and Irbid, and the Bedouin areas this feeling gets accentuated. Some just talk pretty, others seem genuinely interested and desiring to improve their communities, others do not even know where their resources come from, others are too eager to please our eras during election times. When visiting the Queen Zein Al Sharaf Institute for Development makes me feel good to see a woman in the leadership. It makes me feel sad in contrast to see the Ministry of Agriculture developing what to me seems like the solution for the hunger and thirst of the elites or the ones who can pay. The son of a retired general gains enough trust in me to let me know that what we see is only a small part of the class issues in the country. When I ask about the Iraqi refugee reality, his explanation makes takes away my hope. He gives me depictions of people dying of hunger in the middle of the dessert in makeshift tents; he tells me that in Jordan they only are thought of as charity publicity at the end of Ramadan. He tells me that this is also the biggest contrast between the first waves of guest from Iraq, who were extremely wealthy and who create a lot of power conflicts in the kingdom.
As I have grown around diplomats due to my parents careers, I have to admit that most of the time I see that circle as an Invite to share in the big pie of nothing, I see the same in this land, and I can almost see the same people, different language. My alienation grows bigger when thinking how irrelevant the human emotion, and making the person whole is for the hierarchies and their schemes of fixing society. And I try to figure out what can I learn from this. My answer is troubling for my anger and frustration. The one lesson I see in my Jordan experience, and that can be applied all over the world, much to the regret of the freedom and anarchy dreamers, is that systems and structures still matter. They can make or break lives, store water and pave roads, subsidize women and youth initiatives, earn weapons contracts or stop and make wars. As we go through the Palestinian refugee camps, I feel like a white person walking through Soweto. I cast doubt on the many layers of my personal privileges and alienations. And the question ringing in my head is who really dominates the national and international humanitarian agendas here? This becomes more present when we visit the UNRWA , IOM , and UNHCR offices; at times these places look like one more bureaucratic mess, at times as humane seasoned workers, at times like people who just live form check to check.
I cannot understand all that is in front of me in just a few days, I know I am biased, I want to trust my instincts, and I have to force myself to step back, and at least for now, to just watch. I see that our human struggles of survival are the same, to make our issues relevant, fashionable, and important. How to achieve this when it is basically a matter of the heart? The basic answer to a very complex issue is honest dialogue. A dialogue that needs to happen at all levels, skipping the many ministers and hierarchy systems, in places where no one is there for the photo opportunity, and in rooms full of politicians who play for the favors of the royal family. Where even in a world of hierarchy people are equal in their condition, an island of equity where class doesn’t count or pushes people’s agendas back. In this kind of environment the main understanding to have is that in those especial dialogues elimination of class doesn’t mean eliminating traditional structures or responsibilities, and that if one is to really see the country and its peoples grow, it has to happen. IF I go away form what is truth to my heart I fail to see, and become afraid. What did I see in Jordan? I ask myself, also what did I see in myself? I saw dust and thirst, I saw Italian suits and people begging for change in the old downtown streets, I saw a house of luxury and domestic foreign servants, in a few words, I saw a microcosm of the world, how ironic. I find my personal fears there too, the fear of accepting the invitation to the convenient, the business talk, and the titles that are supposed to mean that one is honorable, the titles that validate one’s intentions, and even worth. I tell myself that I cannot forget these people, I cannot forget my people, and I cannot forget who I am supposed to be myself.

The fatigue of a lifetime of resistance of the ones who live down brings Jordan and the rest of the world together, a fatigue polluted by the perpetuation of some of humanity’s unhealthiest traits, a situation that brings awareness, and impulses cynicism to win. Yet, If I stay in that gray area fed by negativity and tiredness I’ll fail to see love for the land, youth willing to acknowledge real issues, spirits of Bedouins resistance, a smile in a camel’s face, food in a land of need, and life blooming in the middle of the desert. Regardless of whom we are, our hope for a better world brings us together. I chose to not criticize anymore, and to open my eyes and awaken my conscience. It is a humbling feeling, I no longer know where I belong, yet I am at home. Regardless of what the consultants working in a monarch’s land may think of Freire, being in Jordan with its people, working with them even for a minute, and giving the voice of my people, is working and giving a voice for its people, not forgetting is to not giving up because of the people, and to be one of the people wherever I roam is what counts for me. Being in Jordan is part of my liberation, and no one can take it from me, regardless of what the consultants may say. This place gives me two feelings at the same time, and they are the same ones that I carry with me all the time, joy and a heavy heart.

Posted by Tomas Ramirez
Photo credit: Tomas Ramirez