Syrian Refugee Crisis: Good to Remember


by Matthew Sugrue, Amman & Zarqa project manager for the CARE Jordan Syria Emergency Response Program


It is difficult to write about what it is like to work with the Syrian refugees in Jordan without sounding pretentious and trite. So I will start by saying that I am much more bearded than I remember. To look at me now, you would never think I was another fresh-faced suit in D.C. just a few months ago. Yet, despite the admittedly pitiful exterior, I am happier when I go to bed than I have been in a long time; although, for the sake of honesty I should note that at least a small amount of that pre-slumber happiness is likely the result of finally making it to my bed each night.

Working with the Syrian refugees living in urban communities in Jordan can indeed be emotionally draining. Encountering such an immense scale of suffering as one does while attending to the seemingly endless lines of heartbreaking stories certainly leaves a lasting impression. For me, the persons who stands out most in my mind is the father and his son who came to our center looking for assistance. The man's son, who was 10-12 years old, had lost his right arm just below the shoulder. Despite his desperate circumstances, the father was nothing but pleasant, and he and I chatted while they waited in line; him with his broken English and me with my abominable Arabic.

There is fulfillment in knowing you helped − even if just some − that motivates me to keep coming back. The Syrians who approach the centers in Amman and Zarqa are refugees to be sure. They are also, and most importantly, people going through a period of immense hardship and stress. When reading or watching the news, it is easy to see only a group of refugees, to define each individual as a refugee and nothing more. It is a simple thing to forget that the Syrian people who seek help are students, mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, engineers and teachers. It is good to remember that you are not helping refugees but people with their own motivations, goals, opinions and lives.

Like many people, I find it difficult to express myself well so I let more eloquent people do it for me (the greeting card method of communication). A verse of poetry that I first read in university, and is inscribed on the United Nations building in New York, is a simple and beautiful expression of the thought process that motivates all of us to help when our help is needed. And there is a sense of comfort in the power of humanitarianism, a quality inherent in all of us. The verse, known as “Bani Adam,’ is from the Gulistan of Sa'adi:

Human beings are members of a whole,
In creation of one essence and soul.
If one member is afflicted with pain,
Other members uneasy will remain.
If you have no sympathy for human pain,
The name of human you cannot retain.

There is something timelessly beautiful and true in the Sa'adi's words written more than 700 years ago. The idea that he described is as relevant today as it was then. To plagiarize a commencement speech from 1963: in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's futures. And we are all mortal.

So, it seems a good way to spend our short time here assisting, in our own small way, people who are vulnerable and in need of a hand.