Boy Scout Visit to a Refugee Camp
1 Jumada II, 1439 A.H.
Alhamdulilah we met in the morning in and listened to our scout leader prepare the boys by informing them that this was not a regular Scouts outing, and was on of the most important things we've done so far in our two years. We departed in 7 cars with 30 boys and 11 fathers. Because we were unsure of the security access there, one of our boys in the scouts, a Syrian refugee himself, and his father decided that it would be wiser not to join us for this trip, in case they face a difficult time leaving the camp once inside. This was a strong lesson for the boys from the get-go about the freedom of movement and access they regularly enjoy.
Arriving at The Camp
We met the Helping Hands team along the highway near the camp. Helpings Hands is the NGO that arranged for the purchase of the home and have been working with this group of refugees (among others) for an extended period of time. You can see the truck carrying the mobile home at the front of our caravan as we arrive. You can also see the group of tents that make up the camp in the distance.
The camp consists of about 35 families that live in tents. Most of these families have been in Jordan for about 4 years. The land is privately owned farmland. The owner has an agreement with the families to farm the land for him in exchange for very limited compensation and a place to live. They had such an arrangement with a previous land owner the lasted 3.5 years. That first land owner asked them to leave recently, and they had to locate to this new land, with all of their belongings. The tents you are seeing are the general quarters for each family. There are two compartments inside, a sitting room (also used for sleeping) that has a hasira (straw mat) type material spread out across the ground, with thin mattresses, blankets and other belongings. This room may have a wood stove heater with exhaust pipes sticking out of the roof of the tent. The second compartment is the kitchen. This is dirt-floored, and filled with pots and pans and whatever food items they have on hand. The ones we visited had a cooking range connected to a propane tank. A tent like this costs 600JD. Families work for a whole year to save up that kind of money in order to be able to purchase a tent like this.Yes, that is a satellite you see. Some tents had old-televisions. At first glance, the situation didn't seem desperate. We had to remind ourselves that we were visiting during relatively mild weather (especially for December), and that it was the middle of the day. We were about to see that even among these families there were varying levels of poverty and destitution.
Delivering The Mobile Home
As mentioned in our email last week, one of our generous Scouts fathers donated the full amount (3500JD) for a mobile home for one of these families. This family would now have this mobile home to live in. Hisham, the Helping Hands rep, informed us that he told the 35 families about the new mobile home donation, and asked them to decide which family should receive it. The families conferred, voted, and chose one family among them to receive it.
Each home comes with it's own exclusive water tank - a luxury at camps like these.
The father of the family who received this new home: "Now I can lock the doors and not worry about my family while I am away from the camp."Other essential benefits of the home aside from security include: a significant upgrade in insulation against cold, better roofing against leaks, hygiene and cleanliness, private and exclusive bathroom for the family, small kitchenette, separate rooms for children and parents, elevation off the ground to protect from dangerous creatures - snakes, scorpions...etc., windows to allow sunlight, window screens to protect from insects.....and more.
This simple addition can save their home and lives. Recently, Hisham received an emergency call in the middle of the night about a family in a different refugee camp. Their tent had burned down in the middle of the night. It was the wood stove heater that caused the blaze. When Hisham's team arrived in the middle of the night for emergency relief, they found the father and his family standing beside the burnt down "home". When they began asking the man what he needed, he replied, "Alhamdulilah. We need nothing. My wife and children survived and no one died. We don't need anything, alhamdulilah." Hisham mentioned that his team was weeping at this man's shukr; at his state with Allah.
The happy new homeowners of this mobile home are a family of 6. The father of the new home said "I feel like I have received a palace." The mobile home is about 30 square meters in total.
Two of our older boys in the scouts helped with the purchase of twenty 5L gallons of cooking oil, and twenty crates of eggs. The fathers purchased the remainder of the supplies, and two other scouts brought packs of macaroni as well. These parcels were arranged, along with an envelope of 10JD cash (the full amount generously donated by one father, May Allah reward him). Our boys unloaded the vehicles, and stood in a line with the parcels. The refugee families lined up at the gathering point. One by one, they walked up, and then led one of our boy scouts back to their tent as he carried and delivered the parcel to their "front door".
Hisham told us that this 5L gallon of cooking oil would last each family for one month.
He also said that eggs were a delicacy. Some of these families hadn't seen an egg in months.
Socializing and Playing Time
After the deliveries, one of our fathers was looking for a soccer ball so we can play with the young children at the camp. When he asked one of the Helping Hands reps, he told him that a ball wasn't needed for a game, and he got everyone in a circle, and began some impromptu games on the spot. The children and the scouts loved it.
The scout leader then had our boys sing some qasidahs for the whole group. The children from the camp were enjoying it thoroughly and were singing along.
We then prayed as a group in the camp musallah, a larger tent with modest carpeting. The Imam, one of the fathers from the camp, asked us kindly to see if we can help with upgrading the musallah , to help with repairs and work on the roof so that it wouldn't leak. Subhan Allah. It made me think of Masjid Al-Bushra, and how it was gifted to all of us in it's beauty and comforts, despite no effort of my own. Yet here was this man, who was in sore need of other basic essentials for his family, yet establishing a proper place of worship was at the top of his priority list.
Visiting Families in Their Tents
The scouts then were divided into their patrols and fathers were assigned to each patrol. Led by Helping Hand reps, we visited a few of the families in their tent homes. The cases seen and the stories heard were too numerous to mention them all here. Some key points will be mentioned in the Boy Scout reflections below.
Bathrooms During our visits, we realized the bathroom arrangement for these families was extremely difficult and challenging. There was one "outhouse" shared between 4 tents. This meant about 20-25 people. It looked like this:
There is no roof, and the privacy is minimal. Further, there is a pipe sticking out of the side that serves as a sewage pipe. Which leads to a primitively dug, shallow ditch a few meters away. Hygiene is a major concern.
This is the bathroom from the inside. If it rains, this entire area is a muddy, unhygienic mess. Using it in the middle of the night becomes a risk due to dangerous creatures, wild dogs, and other hazards. Remember, this one toilet is shared by 20-25 people. There is no running water. This type of bathroom is what most of the families use.
This is another type. One group of families have this one. This was designed by the NGO's who work with these camps. It is a portable bathroom and shower combo. It has it's own water tank and additional wash basin on the outside. It has a hot water heater (although permission is needed to connect it - this depends on electrical load...etc). The piping leads out of the bathroom and into a septic tank waste storage unit below, which then leads out to a deeper dug ditch nearby that allows for waste to be absorbed into the deep earth.
Among the most positive aspects of the visit was the following told to us by Hisham: He said that when the children first arrived from Syria, they were given papers to draw on. Their initial drawings for a long, long time were of guns, blood, killing, people dying, bombs...etc. He said that it took years, until only very recently, when they began drawing like this:
Alhamdulilah, their hearts and minds are beginning to heal.
Our Boys Reflections
After giving our salams and heading out, we drove a few hundred meters, and stopped by the side of the desert road, from where we could still see the camp, spread out a hasira and sat with our ready made lunches and began to eat. For a while, we were all very quiet. This was almost a strange sight for all of you who know our boisterous boys. One father remarked that the food tasted different than it had before. Finally, after several minutes, Our scouts leader asked each scout to stand up and reflect on something that he saw or heard during the visit that impacted him the most, and share his individual idea for fundraising. I won't share all of the reflections here, however, I will list a few that stuck with me. These reflections were not guided, rather they were from the boys' hearts directly.
One thing that struck me is that they lined up to get their food. We never line up to get our food, It made me think of how fortunate we are to have our families and fathers who work hard to provide for us.
When I went to deliver the food parcel to the family, the lady opened the cash envelope and saw the 10JD, and she looked at me as if I had given her 10,000JD.
They were so grateful. They have so little, yet they were so grateful.
A man told us that he and his family had to wait at the Jordan border for 22 days trying to get in. While stuck there, the army sometimes gave them water, and it was only about a spoonful each day. I can't imagine trying to survive on a spoonful of water each day.
I noticed a man bend down and pick up a dry piece of bread off the ground as I was delivering the food parcel to his home.
These people eat such basic food. Sometimes at home, our mom cooks something for us and we don't like it, or we complain. Yet these people are not like that.
We asked one of the refugee boys what he would buy if he had money. If it was us we would say a house, a car, toys, for example. He said he would buy a biscuit.
One thing that struck me is that these families voted among themselves to decide who should get the mobile home.
I was surprised that they served us tea and coffee when we arrived. I didn't expect that. They are very honourable.
Please ask your boys about other reflections they shared or heard.
Meeting these families at the camp was a positive experience for all of, alhamdulilah. It gave a us a vision of some projects we would like to work on to help these families. They may not be the most poverty-stricken refugee camp in Jordan, however, this group of families provide a manageable, focused task for us moving forward. They need anything and everything you can think of. We are in the midst of gathering more information about what some of their immediate needs are (supplies, medicine, proper bathrooms) as well as long term goals (mobile homes, education). Your boys have all come up with individual ideas for fundraising for these refugees. Each dinar makes a difference. Please encourage them and support them in their endeavor. It is our goal to return to this camp in the near future insha Allah. The next time we go, we will be better prepared with more supplies and hopefully another mobile home, insha Allah. We will keep you posted about more information as it becomes available to us.
If you see our boys offering fundraising services around the neighbourhood, please support them with even a little amount to encourage them.
Barak Allahu feekum.