Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Snow in the Desert

I got a number of emails from you all last night commenting on my new blog. Thanks for looking! As you all know me quite well, you know that I am not a history buff, so hang in there with my minimal knowledge of the middle east, hopefully this trip will expand my knowledge of the region a bit.

I woke up this morning, looked out my window, and instead of seeing the many limestone buildings covering the 7 hills of the city, all I saw is snow! Lots and lots of snow!

So for today I am trapped in the hotel...trying to get some work done, but mostly goofing around on the computer and watching bad TV. I’m lucky enough to be here to experience this rare snowfall since I am here to work with my programs that I manage for IRD. The Jordan office is implementing a program called Strategic Health Support (SHS) for Iraqi Refugees. This program is providing health care to over 50,000 Iraqi refugees in a number of neighborhoods of Amman.

According to Refugees International, over 4 million Iraqi’s have been displaced due to the ongoing war, with estimates of up to 700,000 Iraqi refugees, the vast majority being Sunni Muslims, having fled to Jordan and are now residing in and around Amman. (The population of Jordan is 6 million, this large influx of refugees into Jordan would be equivalent to approximately 44 million refugees arriving in the US).

Yesterday I met with some of the refugees who work as community health volunteers for the SHS program. These volunteers have left Iraq for a variety of reasons, mainly violence. They mostly come from Baghdad, where they were well educated and had thriving livelihoods. Upon escape from Iraq they had to leave everything behind, arriving with virtually no material possessions and only enough money to last in Jordan for a few months. As this population is residing in Amman illegally, they are unemployed, their children are not attending school, and they live in relative fear of being deported (From discussions with Jordanian representatives, Jordan has not yet deported any law-abiding refugee) so they don’t access any basic services (health, education, social welfare) that are available in Jordan.

The SHS program volunteers have spent the last 6 months reaching out to the Iraqi communities, via home outreach visits, and providing them with correct information on Jordanian policies and trying to break down the barriers stopping the refugees from accessing services. So far, it has been quite successful. We work with two local NGO clinics, the Jordanian Red Crescent and Noor Al-Hussein Foundation. Our volunteers refer the Iraqis to the clinics for more thorough primary health care, specialized care, and psychosocial counseling. Over the past 6 months the numbers of refugees seeking care at these clinics has increased dramatically, but there is still a lot of work to do.

Over the next 3 weeks I’ll be working with my team to look into ways to break down additional barriers, assessing what additional health and social service gaps are present, and helping start up a new program extending our services into more neighborhoods of Amman.

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