We had the opportunity to accompany a group of Jordanians, Lebanese, and another American on a day trip to Azraq, about 100 km northeast of Amman, to visit with Syrian refugees. It took two hours to get to Azraq from Amman, driving through the barren desert the whole way. Azraq was an unexpected oasis in the wilderness. There are olive tree orchards, fields of cabbages, tomatoes, corn, and cauliflower, and of course water. Many of the Syrian refugees we met have unofficial jobs working in theses orchards and farms. Azraq is also a crossroad to the boarders of Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Syria. I was struck by how close Jordan was to both Syria and Iraq. Many of the Syrian families we met with were farmers in rural Syria and came across the boarder into Jordan with little savings. They are off the grid and opted not to find refugee in the official camps, but instead living off small wages they receive from the Jordanian farmers in Azraq. Many of the families I resettle in the States came through the UN refugee camps and wanting to start their lives a fresh in a new place. The families I was meeting in Azraq were not interested in resettlement, just returning to their farms and lives in Syria when the violence ceased. The group we joined visits these refugee families every weekend and has raised funds for a teacher and school building for the children. A van drives through the farm areas every day to bring student to and from school in Azraq at no cost to the parents. It’s a beautiful service meeting a real need in the community.
We spend the whole day visiting families, hearing their stories, praying and encouraging them, and leaving a bag of food and supplies. Below are pictures and names of the families, as I was able to record them.
Barsha, mother of five living in a UNHCR tent on an olive orchard owned by a wealthy Jordanian sheikh. Her husband is harvesting the olives for the Sheikh for space to live on the land and $10JD a day (equivalent of about $13USD).
Om Marwan, mother of 4, tent neighbor and sister-in-law of Barsha. Her husband is also harvesting the olives for the Sheikh in exchange for space on the land and $10JD a day (equivalent of about $13USD). Her oldest daughter, 10 years old, is afraid of going to school and we tried to convince her to try. Education is the most important way she can spend her days in Jordan, but her mother doesn’t want to push her.
Above is a photo of Walaa with her five children and the home where her and her husband live in exchange for long hours working on a local farm. Walaa and her husband are from Daraa, Syria and fled six years ago when the violence erupted in their city. Walaa is thankful for the school serving her students, but says her children get scared when they hear planes overhead. She says the worst part of this war is the effect it has on the children. They have forever last hope, in her words. Walaa’s neighbor is the landlord and farm owner. His wife Turkia came over to make sure we were not making any trouble. She offered us coffee and discussed the hardships Syria refugees face in Jordan, but we all felt a strange power play and left not long after her arrival.
Next we visited a few Syrian Bedouin camps were entire families were living off the grid in large, traditional Bedouin tents. They lived this same way in Syria, farming their land and moving when necessary. The clan leader at the first camp served each of us coffee, using one glass, in the main tent as an introduction and demonstration of his hospitality. They we moved to runs outside while his wives and children sat on the perimeter. He discussed how he wished the school gave more homework and how hard it has been financially for a few of his children dealing with blood cancer and needing weekly transfusions. The government pays for the procedure, but it cost them $50JD ($70JD) to taxi to the hospital in Amman a week. We prayed for him and the Jordanian leader promised to look into solutions for them (photos below).
The last two families we met with were just woman, making it work with side jobs and herding their own sheep for wool. It was hard to encourage them with no real solutions to offer in terms of long-term employment. Many of them are living day to day and raising their children the best they can in such uncertain circumstances.
The school is only meeting a portion of the Syrian refugees needs in Azraq. They need more funding to expand the school and hire more full-time teachers. Educating the next generation seems to be the best option after employment for the parents. I was deeply inspired by the Jordanians running this small school in the middle of the desert for the vulnerable Syrian families living there. Thankful I had this opportunity.