AKRON, Pa. – Until a year ago, Reham and her three young children lived a middle-class, economically secure life in Dir’a, Syria, supported by her husband, Jamal, who owned and operated a barber shop and beauty salon with several employees.
However, when the Syrian government tried to repress anti-government protests in Dir’a, the beauty center was bombed in the ensuing violence, said Reham. (The couple’s names were changed to protect their identity.)
The family stayed in Syria for the next year, living off their savings. Violent incidents continued in the city, she said, and her children were frightened.
In February 2012, Jamal and Reham’s house was bombed, leaving them with no shelter. Their lives were spared because they were visiting an uncle at the time. Reham and Jamal decided to leave Syria.
They fled to Mafraq, Jordan, joining other Syrians, many who used to live a middle-class lifestyle but now stay in spare rooms, warehouses, schools or tents. They sleep on mattresses donated by the United Nations and accept donated food and household supplies.
Reham described this experience to Nada Zabaneh, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Jordan program coordinator, when they met at a Caritas Jordan operations center in Mafarq. Reham was registering for assistance from Caritas Jordan, an MCC partner and one of few Christian organizations working with Syrian refugees in the area.
With MCC funding, Caritas Jordan is providing supplemental formula and diapers to families with infants. Two shipments of 8,175 comforters, 1,229 relief kits, 6,960 hygiene kits and 6,457 school kits from MCC were scheduled to arrive the last week of April. Caritas Jordan will distribute them to refugees in Mafraq and Ramtha, another northern city where Syrians have taken refuge.
MCC’s support of Syrian refugees in Jordan is part of an appeal MCC launched in early March for $500,000 and for relief kit donations. As violence escalated in Syria, MCC partners called on MCC to support displaced people within Syria, work pre-emptively at conflict resolution in Lebanon and help refugees in Jordan.
By some estimates, there are now more than 100,000 Syrians in Jordan, said Daryl Byler, MCC representative in the region with his spouse, Cindy. Caritas Jordan staff is receiving 30 to 40 new families every week at its centers in Mafraq and Ramtha, he said. The Bylers are from Washington, D.C.
The Syrians join an already large population of refugees who have come to Jordan from Iraq, Sudan, Libya, Palestine and other places. The flow of refugees stresses the resources of Jordanians, Zabaneh said, at a time when food prices and the cost of living are increasing. Many Jordanians are sharing homes and resources to help their Syrian family members and new neighbors.
Some refugees, including Jamal, are able to get low-paying jobs. He works as a barber for 1 Jordanian dinar (JD) ($1.41) per day, much less than the average barber’s salary. That might be enough to buy bread and some cheap cheese, Zabaneh said.
Another woman, who lives alone with her six children, told Zabaneh that the oldest three, all less than 14, work each day for 2 JD, for a total of 6 JD. A family can buy enough food to eat each day on that amount, Zabaneh said, but it’s not enough for living expenses nor are the children in school.
MCC’s kits will be distributed to the neediest of families as determined by Caritas Jordan, Zabaneh said, including a family living in a 20- by 14-foot room in a warehouse, with plastic bags pushed around the door to keep out the cold. The walls are moldy and dirty. A small kitchen and a bathroom are attached.
The father is deaf, she said, and the wife has had a nervous breakdown. They have two young children. The father’s two brothers and uncle and their families live in rooms nearby. The uncle came to Jordan so that his 12-year-old son could get treatment for a bullet wound near his eye.
In these living situations, hygiene kits and relief kits are seen as helpful, Zabaneh said. “Any kind of distribution is important to them,” she said.
Many more relief kits are needed to replace those sent to the Middle East. To donate kits, look at mcc.org/kits for a list of supplies and information about where they can be delivered.
For more information about MCC’s response to the Middle East crisis, visit mcc.org/middleeastcrisis.
Linda Espenshade is news coordinator for MCC U.S.