Laith Eskander
Silas Crews

Laith Eskander is the family ­visits coordinator for Jesuit Refugee Services, an MCC partner organization in Jordan.

An Iraqi refugee shares with other newcomers to Jordan the hope and community he found through an MCC partner organization.

It’s very hard for any person to be a refugee, especially in the time when we came to Jordan. 

In 1995, when I was 17 years old, I fled from Iraq to Jordan, as many young men did, so I would not be drafted. I feared they would ask me to fight and do things without reason. My mother, who is Palestinian, and my sister came too. My father, who is Iraqi, died when I was 11 or 12.

We had some money from my father, and I worked several kinds of short-term jobs with poor pay because they knew I was a refugee. Employers preferred to hire an Iraqi because it is less expensive. They have to pay insurance if they hire a Jordanian. We earned low wages, working 12 to 13 hours a day. At the time, if we worked illegally and authorities caught us, we got deported to our home country.

It’s a hard life, living without hope, working illegally, without social security, without health insurance. My moth­er suffered from liver disease. She began vomiting blood. I took her to a hospital. I paid all the money I saved from the past six years to treat her.

Later I was able to get a residency card, which comes with some medical benefits and allows me to live and work legally in Jordan.

In 2008, people from Jesuit Refugee Services (JRS), an MCC partner organization in Jordan, visited my family, along with other Iraqi refugees. They told me that JRS was offering English and computer sessions for Iraqis. I started to study English with an Iraqi teacher who was very friendly and would teach in funny ways. I spent hours with friends and teachers, laughing and talking.

Eventually, JRS asked me to work for them, doing home visits with refugees. As I visited, I heard about common needs. They needed to learn English because most expected to move to a third country where English is spoken. Most had little income and couldn’t pay rent, couldn’t pay for medical treatment, couldn’t pay for food. Even recently, families coming to Jordan have no mattresses, no furniture, nothing.

“I am not just helping them; they are helping me somehow. When people ask me for help, they teach me how to ask for help.”

I can help by leading families to other nongovernmental organizations or using JRS’ small emergency budget and supplies. I invite them to school to study English and to social events to meet other refugees. Most of our visits are just talking to people — giving them hope, giving them ideas for solutions, encouraging them to work for their future.

We visit Iraqi Christ­ians and Iraqi Muslims. Now I am starting to visit Syrian families, even Sudanese and Somali.

As a Christian, I know Jesus loves every single person. He sacrificed for all people, not caring about their race, religions or beliefs. That encourages me to walk in this way. As a Christian I believe in helping others regardless of religion.

Refugees need different kinds of support. It’s not about money all the time. A huge number of refugees, 65 to 70 percent, are poor; on the other side there are many rich families, but they are refugees too.

One story that sticks in my mind: There was an Iraqi family. The father took his pregnant daughter to a service at Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad, Iraq. While she was there, several suicide bombers came in and other people threw grenades and shot machine guns. The woman and her baby were killed.

When I met the family in Amman, their son was suffering, in need of psychosocial support. The family was alone in their pain.

We thought it was helpful for the son to come to JRS. I invited the boy’s parents to social gatherings. It was helpful for them to meet with others. They weren’t going to church after this happened to their daughter. Father Yousef did a Mass for them in a small church at the Jesuit Center.

Refugees need to be with people. They need to get out from their suffering. I learned this from JRS.

I know so many people now. In two and a half years of working for JRS, I’ve learned to know more people than I did in the 14 years before that. Other refugees invite me, my mother and sister to visit them. I invite people to come to my family’s house. Recently a new family came to visit mine and brought a cake.

I am not just helping them; they are helping me somehow. When people ask me for help, they teach me how to ask for help. I spent several years ashamed to ask for help. Sometimes it is not a shame to ask questions or to ask someone how to get somewhere. It’s not begging.

From their stories, I learned how they passed through their suffering and how they face the future, still full of hope sometimes. I hear advice. I share what I know with them, and they share what they know with me.

It’s good there are people to encourage others to learn and to continue thinking about the future and not to give up. This is the meaning of community — not to forget about others.

(By Laith Eskander; as told to Linda Espenshade)

Laith Eskander is the family ­visits coordinator for Jesuit Refugee Services (JRS), an MCC partner organization in Jordan, and is working on a certificate in database management that he hopes to use to help JRS manage its work with refugees. Read more about MCC’s work with JRS or see Hello, which features a student in a JRS after-school program.