Sunday, April 28, 2013

Another day in Za'atri Camp

I spent four days in Amman this week, to help the team out there with a few things. On Wednesday I went back to Za'atri camp with a couple of the community mobilisation assistants. These women are absolutely fantastic. They not only do such things as site new places for latrines, but check in on the people with special needs, refer cases to other NGOs/UN agencies, and generally keep everyone updated on the progress of their works. It was very obvious to me how much they care about the people in our modules in the camp, and how much the people appreciate them. 

The first stop of the day was to determine a site for a new latrine. These little tackers spotted my camera and demanded I take a photo of them. 
 The boy on the right, who's 10, indicated that he'd like to have a go, so I handed him my camera and he dashed off to a nearby caravan and snapped this photo. Cute huh.
 These are the WASH blocks we've got under construction. There are ones for men and women at the end of each street.
 Inside there are latrines, shower cubicles, space to do laundry and taps for washing before prayers. They're quite fancy, but the cost is lower than the rehabilitation costs for another organisation whose blocks were damaged. The community mobilisers work with the refugees to make sure their needs are addressed and that they'll take ownership of the blocks when completed, so we shouldn't see the same levels of vandalism as in other parts of the camp.
Another activity for the day was tile painting with kids. The tiles will be included in the WASH blocks so again, the kids will feel like they are part of the process. Some of them were quite attractive, like this red one.
We now have an office in the camp, which is a demountable building, much like the caravans the refugees are living in. It's much easier for the team now to have a space to look at the plans, send emails and get a cool drink. I was astounded by this keyboard, it had been clean in the morning when we got there, and this was it by about 3pm! I was also astounded as I was walking down to the restrooms to run into a friend of mine who I didn't even know was in Jordan!
One of the services we're providing are latrine commodes for the disabled. They look like wheelchairs but the seat lifts off as you can see, and there's a covered bucket underneath for waste disposal. Quite nifty really.
I went to meet a 91 year old Mohammed, who'd received one of the commodes. He was asleep when we arrived, but his daughter ushered us in and told us about the challenges they'd faced in Syria, and the decision she made to flee with her 4 nieces and nephews and her elderly father - there was a sniper set up in their street. Her brother has stayed behind. After a while, Mohammed woke up and joined the conversation. He started telling us a story of how when he was 10 years old he and his older brother led a blind man from their village in Syria to Palestine. It was a 2 day walk. He then went back to Palestine as an adult and worked there for a couple of years and he can still speak Hebrew.

He was a lovely man, and I wished that I could've spoken to him all day. He said he really liked my organisation because the staff are always smiling and nobody looks at him with pity. Alas it was time for me to leave.

The camp has certainly changed a bit since the last time I was there. There are now more facilities in our modules, and another NGO has set up a distribution warehouse nearby so people don't have to walk as far. There are also a lot more caravans, but still a lot of tents. It was a beautiful sunny day, after such miserable weather last week, but it was slightly concerning that we're not even in May yet and it's already so hot...it will be quite unbearable for the refugees come summer.
I'd set out to get some case studies of families living in our area who were happy with what they'd received from us and it really wasn't hard. The amount of work and dedication from the community mobilisation team has really paid off; they're very popular in the camp and everywhere they go people stop to say hi. It was quite inspiring watching them work, and I really wished I could've gone back again the next day. Hopefully next time I go back to Jordan I'll be there for a couple of weeks so I can spend more time in the camp.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Imagine for a minute

Imagine for a minute that you live a nice house, with a garden that you lovingly care for, your children are happy in school and you have a job that you love or hate, but one that you go to five days a week. You live in a nice community, say hello to your neighbours when you see them, and when you go to the supermarket you buy the food that you and your family enjoy eating. That's not hard to imagine is it?

Imagine that you take your family out for a picnic one weekend. You have a lovely afternoon enjoying the fresh air, the kids run around for a while and everyone has a great time. Not hard to imagine either. Now what happens when you return home and you find that your house has been bombed and you have nothing left?

I've heard this story first hand, from refugees from Syria. My colleagues have also heard it from other families who one day were living their lives (as normally as can be in the midst of a civil war), and the next had absolutely nothing. Their only option was to flee their homes and neighbourhoods and cross an international border. Many refugees from Syria have extended family living in Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, or Egypt and have had somewhere to go, someone to look after them. But many thousands of people have nowhere to go, no support system to look out for them, no choice.

In Jordan, 150,000 people now call the Za'atri camp home. I've shared some photos of that camp before. Syria is a middle income country, and many (most?) of the refugees now living in the camp have never spent a night in a tent, let alone months and months and months. It's hard to imagine leaving a comfortable home to live in a tent. There aren't jobs, there aren't enough schools. When you add on top of this being completely reliant on aid agencies to provide you with food, sharing kitchen and bathroom facilities with hundreds of people, most of whom are strangers, it becomes very hard to imagine how people cope. About 70% of refugees don't live in camps, they are staying with family, or with people who are opening their homes free of charge. Many are renting rooms and are running out of money fast.

In Lebanon there isn't a formal camp. People again are renting small rooms, sometimes containing more than one family, and sometimes the only spaces that can be afforded are sub-standard garages or incomplete buildings. Informal tented settlements are springing up, where landowners have allowed refugees to pitch tents on their land, and there are no services. It was a very cold winter this year in Lebanon, but thankfully it has been warming up.

Over one million people have been registered by UNHCR as refugees outside of Syria. There are hundreds of thousands more who haven't been registered yet. There are about 4 million people affected by the conflict still in Syria. Only one in five schools in Syria are still open.  The scale of the destruction caused by this war is massive, and it will takes years and years to rebuild...which can only happen after an end to the conflict is found.

The organisation I worked for has recently declared this a Category 1 emergency - the highest priority for the whole confederation. For us in the field, that means a whole lot of support and attention can be expected from various HQs around the world, but at this stage, we still have a very limited amount of funding to get assistance to the people in need. And the people in need aren't just refugees, but the communities that are hosting refugees, who are seeing strains on resources and competition for all ready limited jobs. The needs are only going to increase; it is expected that there will be one million refugees in Lebanon by the end of the year - I'm not sure what the projections for Jordan are.

We need to increase the size of our programmes which is a very difficult thing to do when there aren't the funds to do so. We have teams of people working hard to try and raise more money from the public, from governmental donors, from foundations and the private sector. The organisation itself has provided funding from its reserves to get things moving but so much more is needed.

What makes this even more difficult as we are just one organisation; all agencies are struggling to get the funding needed to cover the needs. Coordination between agencies is happening to try and ensure that duplication of services is limited, to make sure the resources are spread out.

I shall end this with a request: if you can afford to donate please do so to the reputable aid agency of your choice. Every little bit helps. Really.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Yes, this is about shoes

I loathe shoe shopping. Loathe it. So imagine my disappointment when I discovered over the past week that the three pairs of shoes I've been wearing day in, day out, for the past 3 months are all falling apart. Considering for the vast majority of last year (and probably most of the previous 5 years) I lived in flip flops, it was quite a change for me to work in winter conditions and have to wear closed in shoes all the time.

First, my knee high boots have torn away at the toe...yes, perhaps some super glue would fix the problem but these boots are about 3 years old and it's time to say goodbye. Secondly, my goretex shoes that have seen any number of muddy refugee camps have somewhat collapsed internally, which I painfully discovered after a power walk the other evening when my foot cramped up and I almost fell over. These shoes are also about 3.5 years old. Thirdly, the black Mary Janes that have lovely arch support have got holes in them. I have no idea how old these are, but for consistency's sake we'll say over 3 years old.

So they all have to go (on the up side, this means less space taken up in my luggage when I leave!) and that left me with the hassle of shoe shopping. Many people would be delighted for an excuse to buy shoes, after all this isn't a matter of want, it's a matter of need. But not me. I knew I needed a couple of pairs of spring-ish shoes, as the weather is starting to warm up, and a new pair of runners.

I figured the only way to make the shoe shopping experience less painful, was to buy shoes that would make me happy when I looked at them (and also when I wore them). Hence, blue runners:
Fawn flats with fluro orange trim and heels (my housemates in Yemen could confirm how much I've wanted fluro orange shoes in my life)
And green flats with a maroon trim and bright yellow bow...I mean, come on, these will go with everything!
Colourful things make me happy. While I'm sure there is a lot of truth to wearing colours that match your complexion, I'm a firm subscriber of the "if it's a bright colour that perhaps washes out your colouring but it makes you happy when you wear it, then you should wear it because everyone looks good wearing a smile" school of thought (I may have just made up that particular school of though). I think if I apply that logic to my clothing, then it fits with shoes as well. So, in a nutshell, I'm very happy now that I have colourful shoes.

Speaking of colourful, the sunset was pretty nice this evening.
I've been meaning to write a more serious post about the situation in Syria, and the responses I've been working on, but my brain hurts at the end of the day, so much so that I find myself writing a lengthy blog post about shoes. We're expecting a bit of a big internal change next week, so perhaps that will inspire me to write something more. Insha'allah, you won't have another blog post about shoes for another 3.5 years at least! :-)