After the 1948 Arab-Israeli War and later the 1967 Six-Day War, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled their homes and went into exile in nations such as Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. In Jordan alone, for example, there are over 3 million refugees; yet, the numbers might be even higher.
Among the several refugee camps established around the country since the late 1940s, Amman New Camp, locally known as Wehdat, might be the most imperative – and a case apart. One essential distinction among camps in Jordan and other countries is the “freedom” given to the refugees. In Lebanon and Syria, for instance, refugees are confined to the limits of their camps, having barely any interference with the native population – even after over 50 years. In Jordan, these camps do not present physical borders and Palestinians have rather become Jordanian citizens. Wehdat, besides being a prolific neighborhood of Amman, is filled with businesses, markets and most importantly, people – either Jordanian or Palestinian.
Even though the reality encountered in Amman New Camp might be fairly better than other camps, the need for assistance is clearly visible. Luckily, two days before my visit I aimlessly met Rami Sha’ar and after a short conversation, he cordially invited me to enter the open borders of Wehdat. As a firm believer of the saying “good opportunities do not knock twice,” I firmly grabbed onto the chance and accepted the invitation.
Rami Sha’ar, alongside Mohammad Assaf, works for a local Relief International branch. Much can be found online about the endeavors of this organization; hence, I rather focus on the people behind the Wehdat center. Teachers, for instance, work on a volunteer basis and class subjects include drama, English grammar and music. The entire facility is equipped with classrooms, computer lab and the necessary tools to advocate the organization’s ideals. The center assists a wide portion of the local community: men and women, ranging from 9 to 60 years old. Furthermore, classes and courses are designed to accommodate the specific needs of each student.
Rami and Mohammad’s effort to improve the overall quality of life at Wehdat is indeed an admirable struggle. Mohammad had an early start amidst social causes, joining several other institutions before becoming the director of the Wehdat center. Besides this full-time position, he also voluntarily visits local schools and performs workshops in order to better prepare the local youth for their professional future. Rami, on the other hand, quit his former occupation as a Physics Teacher to fully dedicate his knowledge in promoting personal and community ideals.
Such struggle obviously faces several difficulties. Most of society does not completely grasp the goals of the project. From their perspective, most of these activities and courses offered by the center are also accessible through public investments. Yet, after a quick walk around the center, it becomes apparent that the local community greatly benefits from the offered activities.
Another current challenge coincides with times of great economical hardships; and the lack of funds compromises the future of the center. Hence, most of the investment consumed by education and maintenance expenses has been greatly reduced. As a result, class attendance and the diversity of projects have been affected.
Let me back it up. Some young students are expected from their families to maintain a professional occupation and contribute with financial necessities. The solution encountered by the organization was to offer monetary gratification – given to the family and the student him/herself – and free transportation. However, because of recent costs reduction, several students have lost such benefit, consequently returning to their employment obligations.
Despite all adversities, both Mohammad and Rami still find motivation to salute each and every member with a warm smile on their faces. During a more intimate moment, Mohammad recalled the several nights spent at the office, without having time – and possibly energy – to make his way back home. Jokingly, he referred to the center as his actual home; proving that indeed there is some truth behind every joke.
And as Rami and I walked through the neighborhood, people’s reactions upon his sight were enough evidence of his (and Mohammad’s) respectful accomplishments. There are several notable life stories among the Wehdat population, passed on generation by generation. Colorful businesses, tasteful food markets, diligent salesmen, all create a cultural spectacle amidst the busy streets of Amman New Camp; and through the eyes and expression marks of each resident, history becomes almost palpable. These life stories are filled with scars, pride and admirable effort.
The refugees might be away from their homeland; yet, in such context, home and land cannot coexist in unison. Land might be distant from their reality, but home is rather a feeling. And I felt at home.
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