Thousands of crudely constructed tents rested on muddy ground, which brimmed with children playing in the swampy terrain. They looked small against an imposing perimeter of military tanks. The Giving Children Hope team thought the mass of tents would never end as they drove through this miles-long Za’atari Refugee Camp in Jordan, which houses more than 130,000 Syrian refugees. The visit to the camp was part of the team’s 8-day trip to Lebanon and Jordan, where they witnessed how many of Syria’s 1.6 million refugees are living once they’ve escaped.
“Their homes are being blown up, and they’re literally getting out of Syria to save their lives,” said GCHope Founder John Ditty, “but we saw so many people there just loving on them and bringing hope to these refugees.”
After landing in Jordan on May 15, the team (which included Ditty and Logistics Coordinator Janet Valencia) visited the refugee camp as their first and one of their most remarkable excursions. In the camp, overcrowding, disease and tension mar a swelling population, which was increasing by 1,000 to 2,000 residents every day. The team ventured into the camp in a van, accompanied by a priest, a sheikh, and the camp’s directors. They were eager to talk to the refugees themselves, but when they tried to exit their car, a mob of refugees almost formed a riot, angered by the lack of food and fresh water at the camp. Forced to leave the camp, our team talked to refugee families who live on its outskirts instead. Living outside the confines of the camp, these families do not receive government resources, so donations from organizations like ours are vital. Our team was struck by their stories of escaping violence-ridden Syria.
“They come here with absolutely nothing, so we got to see how our shipments of items are helping them,” Ditty said, “but the most touching part is just talking to them. It gets very personal when you hear about family members who’ve died.”
Most refugees do not live clustered into camps, but are integrated into towns, where cultural friction is inescapable. Our team visited a feeding center in a downtown Lebanese slum, where missionaries are instrumental in serving the refugees amalgamated there. They also visited World Vision, a refreshing organization on a mission to empower slum residents. It gives paint to the community’s youth, who design and paint murals on downtown walls. In return, the city cleans up the wires and trash on every street that a mural is painted on.
“Streets are littered, there are webs of wires everywhere, and the city wouldn’t do anything about it,” said Ditty, “but after seeing the stencils of birds and flowers painted by the youth, they finally started acting. And it’s a win-win situation.”
The project brings together an array of locals, from Syrians to Armenians and Muslims to Christians. When a new mural is started, curious neighbors and passersby join in, amplifying the project and progressively beautifying the slums.
“More than cleaning the streets, this brings a sense of pride to the locals. They can be proud of where they live,” Ditty said.
Medical assistance is crucial for the refugees, and our team visited two church-based clinics in Jordan. In one, a pastor funds an entire clinic, which distributes up to $7,000 of medication a day, and treats everyone from Syrian to Ethiopian refugees for free. The team also toured a hospital run by a Catholic bishop. Its staff had previously asked GCHope for supplies, and our team was thrilled to see vitamins and other supplies that we had sent being distributed there.
Though aid from clinics like these is beginning to fill the refugees’ day-to-day needs, memories of the violence they left, and often continue to experience, is raw in their minds. The team met a 10-year-old boy with a notepad on which he had drawn a stick figure scene of his family, surrounded by murder, escaping from their town.
“He saw dead bodies of friends as he left his Syrian village. Illustrating this was his way of expressing himself, but the experience will forever impact him,” Ditty said.
The trip was both heartbreaking and inspiring to our team, who came back determined to continue sending supplies and prayers to Lebanon and Jordan. As the number of Syrian refugees is predicted to more than double, escalating to 3.5 million, Giving Children Hope needs your help to keep providing for the needs of displaced Syrians. Whether you’re donating a warm blanket or funds for medical supplies, you can make a direct impact on the lives of these refugees. Learn what actions to start taking here, and read about how one woman made a huge impact right from her home in San Francisco.