Monday, March 11, 2013

Join a candlelight vigil + support peace - #Syriacrisis

Working to Help Syrian Refugees in a Male-dominated Environment

Amid a sea of male construction and site workers in Jordan's sprawling Zaatari desert camp, Oxfam's female engineer, Farah Al-Basha stands out from the crowd.
The energetic 27-year-old Jordanian joined the Oxfam team earlier this year, quitting her job at a private engineering company to work for the aid agency.
Instead of working on military and defense contracts and designing underground bunkers, she now helps to oversee work building toilet and shower blocks and installing water tanks at Zataari's refugee camp. She's been involved in drawing up quality, safety and inspection plans; liaising with and advising contractors; and carrying out on-site inspections to ensure standards are met at every stage along the construction project.

"I wanted to work with an NGO to help people here, to try to do something more for the community. For me, work shouldn't just be about the money," she said.
But she admits her first visit to the camp was a bit of a shock. "It was the first time I have ever been to a refugee camp and, honestly, it was overwhelming", she said. "I had only seen this on television, not first-hand. I realized this job was going to be totally different in terms of what it required of me than my previous work.
"It's been a life-changing experience for me. Helping to change people's lives is not an easy thing to do. It's also a difficult thing to realize that, as much as you want, you cant help everyone everywhere."
In Zaatari camp, Farah is a woman on a mission: determined to show that women engineers are just as capable as their male counterparts and making sure she is up to date on all the latest reading and research to make sure that no one can fault her. Farah's day-to-day work involves overseeing and inspecting the work of the (all-male) laborers and making sure everything goes to plan -- or if it doesn't, finding solutions to daily problems.

"Every day is crazy and every day is really busy," says Farah.
When I visit, she points out wide cracks in the cement floor of a new block which will house toilets and showers. "Look, the cracks are so wide," she says, pointing to the floor where she has marked in red ink the words "rejected."
"This will cause problems... the contractors will have to fix it," she says, shaking her head.
She's firm but polite as she speaks to the contractors, pointing out the problem. But they accept what she says. "I'm very demanding and quite strict, but they respect me," she says. "They realize I am not here for a fashion show, but I'm an expert and know what I'm talking about.
"Every day, big groups of women and children follow me as I work in the camp," she says. "The girls say they see me as a kind of role model and say they'd like to do work like me when they are older."

"The children in the camp love to see us work: they make sure they are awake and up and about when we arrive in the camp for our day's work."
Farah had hoped to recruit an all-female team to work with her, but the first female junior engineer she hired quit after a few days into the job. "It's a shame. This woman was very shy and it was really difficult for her to deal with the male laborers. You have to be firm," she says. "There are many women engineers in Jordan, but most chose not work on-site but stay working in offices. I've been working as an engineer for the last six years and I'm always the only female engineer on site."
Undaunted by some of the setbacks, Farah is full of plans and ideas. She's hoping to pass on some basic engineering and plumbing skills to some people in the camp; and to get women in the camp more involved with the work Oxfam is doing.
Spending most of her days in the camp, she says, is a tiring but rewarding experience.
"We're surrounded by children for most of the day. We walk together, we eat together, we share stories and dreams. When the time comes to leave the camp, we get into our car, tired and exhausted with messy hair and dirty jeans, with our faces a bit more darkened by the sun than the day before.
"We're thinking about how lovely a bubbly shower will be, but before closing the doors, the kids come and say 'See you tomorrow' and we close the doors with a big smile, forget about how dirty we are, or how lovely this bubbly shower will be and we start thinking about what can we do next for those kids."

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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Syria's worsening humanitarian crisis

Syria's humanitarian crisis is dramatically deteriorating. The UN estimates 2.5 million people displaced by conflict inside the country need help, while there are now more than 800,000 refugees who've fled to neighbouring countries, including Jordan - with record numbers arriving in January. Oxfam is among the many agencies responding to urgent needs inside Zaatari camp, which houses more than 90,000 refugees.

Monday, January 21, 2013

A refuge from Syria conflict still brings misery for thousands in Lebanon

Take a look at the hands of married women who’ve fled Syria to take refuge in neighbouring Lebanon and you’ll notice that almost all aren’t wearing any jewellery. Many families fled the fighting in Syria with little more than the clothes on their backs. Desperate, traumatised, and in severe need, families were forced to sell off whatever they had with them to get out of the country, find a flat or a space to shelter and buy food for the family – even if it meant selling off a precious wedding ring and other gold jewellery. Fatena, who used to live in Yarmouk camp for Palestinian refugees, in Syria, starts to cry as she tells me her family’s story. Most inhabitants of the camp, near Damascus, fled when violent clashes between pro-regime fighters and rebel militants, escalated dangerously. Fatena says her family paid $400 dollars to pay for a car to the Lebanese border. They arrived on Christmas Eve. “The drivers exploited our miserable situation and asked for much more money than normal”, she said bitterly. The same is true for rents. With a large influx of more than 200,000 registered and unregistered refugees arriving in Lebanon, normal rental prices for even the most basic of buildings in many areas has increased two to three-fold as landlords have been taking advantage of the demand-driven market. Fatena had to sell off her jewellery, including her wedding ring, to pay for the basics. She points to one pretty ring on her finger. “This is worthless. It’s not gold, just a bauble”, she said. “No use to anyone” Safely inside Lebanon, families worry about the future. Most have managed to pay some rent now, but have no money for rental fees in the coming months. Their homes, which are often just garage spaces, are mostly damp, unheated and unfurnished. It’s not uncommon for large family groups of up to 20 people to live in just two to three rooms. They worry about how they’ll pay for food and heat, with most unable to find work; fret about their children’s health, with many getting colds and bronchial infections, and whether their children will ever have a chance to go to school again. The cost of living in Lebanon is way higher than in Syria. Life each day is a struggle, though many neighbours and family members have lent the newcomers what little they have including blankets, cooking utensils and some rugs. Oxfam and its partners have also been distributing blankets and mattresses to some of the neediest families during what has been the worst winter weather conditions in 20 years. Hanaa’s family are among those who benefitted from our help. Despite her difficulties, she laughs and jokes as she explains the set-up of where she’s living. Three families, a total of 15 people, share a couple of dark rooms and more relatives are on their way. Its an old building, draughty and unheated. Seeping rainwater has caused large patches of damp and peeling paint on the walls. And in the bathroom, she laughs, pulling a face, there are rats. “Lack of money is the biggest problem we face. We have no washing machine, no fridge, no gas, no winter supplies, no food, no way to find any work”, she says. Another relative living with her, Alaa, an English teacher, nurses her four month-old son. She and her husband have both been unsuccessfully looking for work. She says her two young children have become sick and developed bad coughs. Everyone huddles close to each other at night to stay warm. “It’s so expensive here”, she laments. “But I have hope things will be better, that we can go back home and the violence will end. We used to live like kings [in Syria] but here we are like beggars. We beg for people’s help. This is killing us: we feel so ashamed.” Out in the courtyard, her relatives’ children play. They’ve got wooden sticks, which they wield like rifles, and aim as if they are taking shots at each other in a war game. All are less than ten years old. Way too young to have witnessed the atrocities of war. But clearly, already scarred by what they have seen. ends