I was introduced to Tom Carmichael by Scott Mehan who runs the Refugee Utility Project in Jordan. When I asked Scott who would he recommend for our May 2017 International refugee organization of the month, he mentioned about Tom and his team’s relentless effort to help refugees in Jordan. After a few email exchanges, I got a chance to learn more about Tom and his organization’s humanitarian effort.I asked Tom why he decided to start this organization and this was his response-
So I came into Acting for Change Jordan in February, but the organisation had been running since October. So it was Kotaiba who founded the organisation, not me, and it’s really his organisation rather than mine. I have just been supporting him through helping organise admin, volunteers and projects for him.
This is what I admire about people like Tom who is a volunteer project manager. They are all about helping people first hand instead of being a small cog in a large wheel. He also learned Arabic so that he can cross the communication barrier and interact with people at a personal level. In addition to Tom, I should mention Kotaiba Alabdullah, a refugee from Syria, who was instrumental in the formation of this organization. Read more about them below.
Thank you Tom and Kotaiba and good luck with all your exemplary work.
May 10th 2017
Acting For Change Jordan
Who We Are
Acting For Change Jordan is a volunteer-led initiative that seeks to improve the living conditions of Syrian refugees and underprivileged Jordanians. The organisation was founded in October 2016 by Kotaiba Alabdullah, a refugee from the Syrian city of Palmyra. Since his very first days in Jordan, he has worked to support underprivileged communities. Providing relief items, coordinating with existing NGOs and UN bodies, he has helped ensure Syrian and Iraqi refugees as well as poor Jordanians received the assistance they needed. In 2013, he started volunteering with a humanitarian organisation in Zaatari village and after the organisation stopped their work, he was able to establish his own NGO to continue and expand their activities. In founding Acting For Change Jordan, Kotaiba partnered with Marwan Allom, a Jordanian special needs activist. After suffering an accident which lead to the paralyzation of his legs, Marwan has since dedicated his life to supporting and inspiring young people with disabilities. Through a partnership with the Swedish NGO Acting For Change, the Jordanian organisation now runs projects all across Northern Jordan as well as in Syria. These projects include the provision of NFIs to underprivileged Jordanians and Syrian refugees, education and events for underprivileged youth. The organisation now relies on a large and diverse pool of local and international volunteers to fulfill its mission.
Acting For Change Jordan is a truly grassroots organisation, centred on the extensive relationships of trust that Kotaiba and Marwan have established over the years with aid agencies, fellow refugees and Jordanians, and government bodies alike. The organisation seeks to empower the communities with the means to improve their lives while providing aid in locations few organisations operate. Indeed, while Jordan is home to over one million Syrian refugees according to the government, the main focus has long been directed to providing relief aid in camps. Today however, the majority of Syrian refugees live in urban areas and smaller host communities, putting additional pressure on an already fragile economy. Besides having used up the few resources they might have had when leaving Syria, refugees are left with little to nothing after seven years of conflict in their home country. While the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan has proven extremely generous in opening its borders to its Syrian neighbours, the protracted crisis has stretched its resources. According to the United Nations, more than 70 per cent of Syrian refugees live below the poverty line. In addition to subsistence needs, there is also a pressing need for education, training and psychosocial support within the community to address the psychological and social effects of violent conflict and displacement.
Acting For Change Jordan exists to help ensure both poverty-stricken Jordanians and refugees are given the means to live in decent conditions thereby promoting resilience within the communities and a peaceful coexistence between them. Our ultimate aim for our projects is for them to no longer be needed, due to an end to the war in Syria, or because the communities that we work with become empowered enough to address the challenges in which they face. In this case, we will stand independently from the communities but continue to inspire them to aim high through youth empowerment schemes and other projects.
Where We Work
The Community in Zaatari Village – Zaatari Refugee Camp is well known, and the sea of white tents near the Syrian border has certainly made the headlines. What often goes unreported however, is the fact that there are 25,000 people living in Zaatari village, around 1 kilometre from the camp. The vast majority of the people there are Syrian Refugees who, still living in UNHCR tents, are not receiving enough support from larger NGOs. This is what makes our work in the community particularly vital.
A Humanitarian Crisis in Rukban – Rukban, an area in the middle of the desert close to the meeting point of Jordan, Syria and Iraq and previously inhabited only by Bedouins, has become home to an ever-growing population of some 75,000 Syrian refugees. Trapped in this no-man’s-land between Syria and Jordan, thousands of children living in makeshift tents are missing out on vital education. In partnership with Refugee Utility Project, we are working to remedy this. We aim to give these children back a sense of normalcy and structure as well as providing them with skills they will need later in life.
Thanks to its grassroot nature, Acting For Change Jordan has the capacity to quickly respond to emergency needs. Beyond that, the organisation has four main programmes.
ACTING FOR EDUCATION
Almost half of Syrian refugee children are still out of school, seven years into the civil war in neighbouring Syria. The Hashemite kingdom of Jordan in spite of its efforts is lacking the funding needed to expand its educational infrastructure and hire the teachers needed to fulfill the demand. In addition to this, many refugee children have been missing out on their education for too long to be eligible to attend schools in Jordan. Lack of documentation, traumas and for many, having their schools destroyed back in Syria, means a whole generation of children needs to be brought back to school to secure their future again. Therefore, one of the main mandates of Acting For Change is to ensure every child has access to education and receives psychosocial support.
At our school in Zaatari village, which caters to 75 students, we have supplied the classrooms with pens, notebooks, desks, chairs and textbooks, and distributed backpacks to the children. Not only are these materials vital to ensure that the students get the maximum benefit from the school, but also help them to feel like ordinary schoolchildren again. The head teacher, a volunteer from the community who taught in Syria for 20 years provides lessons, following the Jordanian curriculum in Arabic language, maths and science. One of our main aims for the near future is to be able to provide a salary for this volunteer in recognition of his invaluable work and remarkable dedication.
In addition to our school in Zaatari, we donated 50 education packs to a school for Syrian children in Amman run by volunteers. Each child received a backpack containing pens, pencil-cases and notebooks.
We aim to provide volunteers for our school in Zaatari who can teach English classes twice a week. We are working on developing a curriculum that best suits the needs and abilities of the students, whose ages range from 6 to 15, and a report card system to monitor the children’s progress. After providing English classes between April and May, we aim to relaunch the classes from September until July of next year.
We teamed up with Refugee Utility Project to build a school in Rukban with three classrooms and a capacity of 120 students. The demand for a non-fee charging school has been so great that we have started work on building an additional two classrooms, and are looking to employ two more teachers.
ACTING FOR DIGNITY
While our objective is to empower communities to provide for themselves, most underprivileged Jordanians and Syrians in Zaatari village cannot afford the basic necessities such as hygiene products or winter clothes and sometimes food. We therefore work to ensure that all the families in the villages are provided with the essentials and we make seasonal as well as emergency distributions of goods. Seasonal distributions include:
-Winter: Children’s winter clothes, heaters, gas bottles and food.
-Summer: Additional water distribution, hygiene kits, fans and mosquito nets for infants, and food.
-Autumn: School supplies and food.
-Eid: Gift distribution for the children whose parents cannot afford to buy them the traditional Eid gifts (Eid al-Fitr is a religious holiday that marks the end of Ramadan, the holy month of fasting, and is celebrated with special prayers, visits to friends and family, donations to charity and the giving of presents to young children, amongst other traditional activities).
ACTING FOR FUN
Half of Syrian refugees are children. Most of them have been through moments and experiences no child in the world should ever have to see. Through this programme we offer a safe space for the children where they can be young and carefree again. We specially design educational and fun programmes to promote peaceful coexistence between the Jordanian and Syrian youth while ensuring they learn new skills (such as recycling, English, singing, physical activities) and strengthening values such as discipline, politeness, respect and honesty. By including psychosocial activities in our programmes we support the youth and especially young children to gradually overcome their traumas. They become more sociable, more open and parents report their behaviour at home improves.
ACTING FOR EARTH
This programme aims to teach practical skills to members of the community in Zaatari village and provide them with fun and stimulating activities, while at the same time turning spare materials and refuse into much-needed items for use by the community itself. This way both the community and environment is supported.
Our upcycling project (in partnership with Innovation Aid) aims to combat three main problems in Zaatari village. Firstly, most families live in sparsely-furnished buildings or tents that lack basic items such as shelving and storage facilities. Our program turns discarded materials into such items. Secondly, many inhabitants of the village lack occupation and suffer from boredom. This project is at once creative and practical, encouraging physical and mental exertion and boosting the self-esteem of participants as they learn new skills and are better able to provide for their families. Thirdly, a significant amount of waste is produced in the village and much of it populates the streets, since attitudes in Jordan towards littering are often very permissive and the concept of recycling is not well known. Our project encourages participants to consider the benefits that they receive from recycling and reusing, also helping to ensure the area is tidier, safer, and that there are benefits for the environment.