We are humanitarian service volunteers serving with two other couples in Jordan. Although Jordan is a place of safety and refuge amidst the turmoil of the Middle East, Jordan still experiences many challenges from its interactions with its neighbors.
Between a third and a half of the current population of 9 million are refugees who have come to Jordan over the last 50 years. Obviously, this influx has caused tremendous strain on the government and the people of Jordan in terms of housing, health care, roads/traffic and education. Jordan as a nation and as a people have risen to the occasion. As His Majesty the king of Jordan has said, in essence, how can we turn our back on these people who are in such need?
Some of our friends and family have asked, “Why are you in Jordan?” That question really embodies two different concepts — “Why are Brent and Margaret in Jordan?” and “Why is LDS Charities in Jordan?”
The answer to the first question is that we have always wanted to serve and we were called to go to Jordan. The answer to the second question is seen in the purposes of LDS Charities in the Middle East — to relieve suffering, build communities and promote peace. As we have tried to serve with these principles in mind, we have gained many new perspectives about caring for the poor and needy.
For most of us, relieving suffering comes immediately to mind when we hear about humanitarian service. We think of victims of floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, droughts or war.
In Jordan, we are dealing with refugees of war. A portion of our mission has been working with hundreds of thousands of suffering people who were forced from their homes and sought Jordan as a place of safety. These people were often middle-class who abandoned all their possessions to flee the onslaught of destruction in their neighborhoods. Mothers came with infants who were sometimes only hours old. Others were on the road for days and, eventually, ran out of diapers and supplies for their babies. Most were hungry, some starving, and all were exhausted. Early in our service here we helped to distribute more than 25,000 winter coats and blankets to these families.
Our direct involvement with those who are suffering gave us a new perspective: Everyone can do something to help.
Nadia was a 12-year-old Syrian who was shot in the back by a sniper as her family was jumping into a taxi for the ride out of their town. By the time they crossed into Jordan, Nadia was paralyzed from the waist down. LDS Charities provided a wheelchair and we became her friends.
We met another of Nadia’s friends — a generous man named Jamal who spends all of his time working to help refugees find rest from their dreary surroundings and the indignities of their circumstances.
Nadia went from being discouraged and depressed to acceptance of her situation and ultimately to setting goals for her life. In her words she wants to become “a strong woman.” Now, at age 14, Nadia has become a counselor to newly arrived Syrian girls who were, like her, traumatized by the war. She is a beacon of hope.
This is a fine example that no matter the situation every person has gifts and talents to contribute to others.
Relieving suffering is immediate, whereas building communities is more long term. We have found we are most effective and our efforts most long lasting when we work with partner organizations that are Jordanian. In essence, we promote principles of self-reliance and sustainability and the Jordanian partners adapt those principles to work best in their culture.
For example, we have developed a wonderful partnership with Our Lady of Peace Center, a Christian school/therapy facility for children with disabilities, most of them Muslim. All the services are free. Cooperating with Our Lady of Peace Center, LDS Charities has supported training for therapists in cerebral palsy, autism, coping with war trauma, early childhood disease identification and speech therapy. Experts from the United States and their Jordanian counterparts trained parents and other therapists, thus expanding the resources for parents and caregivers in the whole nation.
At the cerebral palsy training sessions, Heather Reed, a licensed physical therapist volunteer for LDS Charities, gave a short presentation on basic concepts and then began a unique hands-on training with the therapists, patients and their families all participating.
Heather demonstrated how playing with the children becomes a part of the therapy, helping them relax and even enjoy what are sometimes painful and difficult exercises. One young boy was lying on his stomach struggling to lift his head. Heather playfully encouraged him as she demonstrated to the group. When he was able to do it, he broke into a huge smile and the whole group felt the accomplishment. This practical training helped therapists better work with parents and children to adapt their perspective from what can’t be done to what can be done and to celebrate the success.
LDS Charities’ contributions in building communities are funded from the Church’s Humanitarian Fund. Members of the Church contribute on the tithing donation slip to Humanitarian Services and we personally find it inspiring that 85 percent of the donations are in increments of $20 or $50. We feel blessed to be facilitators for the distribution of these sacred funds. In essence, we act as proxies for those who have given the original donations.
As part of our assignment, we work with the American University of Madaba, a Catholic-founded university that educates young Christians and Muslims, mixed together, in an English-speaking environment. A broad world view and an appreciation for the values of freedom, tolerance, and responsibility are the foundation of the educational program. Our job is to help this university obtain United States accreditation and, at the same time, assist it to incorporate the best values and practices from American universities.
It has been very gratifying to see the progress of the university and this great vision for education in Jordan.
In addition to our work at the university, we feel we have a personal role in promoting peace. True peace comes from living the principles taught by Christ. We don’t actively preach the gospel in Jordan, but it is our responsibility to live by and demonstrate it to those we meet through our actions.
Relieving suffering, building communities, and promoting peace will continue to be a part of our lives wherever we live.
•Brent and Margaret Strong serve as humanitarian service volunteers for LDS Charities in Jordan.
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