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Rallying local support to help Syrian refugees

Jordan, Syria, July 15, 2013

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  • Catherine Ashcroft works with Jordanian volunteers to collect donations that Mercy Corps helps them distribute to refugees and host community families in need. Photo: Sumaya Agha/Mercy Corps
  • Three of Samira and Amad's children in the clothes they received through Catherine's efforts. Photo: Sumaya Agha/Mercy Corps
  • One of the many volunteers, some of whom are themselves Syrian, who help sort the donated goods to help refugees who lost everything in the war. Photo: Sumaya Agha/Mercy Corps
  • The donations also help Jordanian families, like Khalid and his son Yamen, who have long struggled with poverty. Photo: Sumaya Agha/Mercy Corps

Samira and Amad arrived in Jordan four and a half months ago with their five children, after a perilous trip from their home in Dara’a, Syria. “The night we ran away there were 22 huge bombings, one of which destroyed our neighbor’s home. Escaping to Jordan was the most frightening and most stressful experience of my life,” Samira recalled.

They found their way to serene A Sareeh, where they no longer have to worry about rockets and gunfire. Mercy Corps provided them with a winterization kit when they arrived: blankets, floor mattresses, jackets, a gas heater and coupons for fuel. But they had nothing else except the clothes they were wearing.

And that’s where our Resource Mobilization Consultant, Catherine Ashcroft, stepped in.

Marshaling Jordanian volunteers and donations to meet refugees’ urgent, everyday needs

Catherine works with local volunteers to collect donations in Jordan and purchase supplies for Syrian families living in host communities and refugee camps.

Samira and Amad received clothes and kitchen goods for their family of seven. According to Samira, “The items arrived just in time!”

We have been working since the beginning of the year to provide household kits and rehabilitate shelters for refugees and host community members. Local Jordanian charities help us identify the families who will receive this assistance — but they also identify additional needs for the basics like hygiene items, clothing, shoes, books, toys, and cooking supplies that are not provided with that program. Catherine’s efforts are helping us supply these and more.

“Large-scale response takes time, given donor decision-making processes and internal procedures,” explained Elena Buryan, head of Mercy Corps Jordan’s emergency response team. “Catherine’s work allows us to respond rapidly to urgent needs, if on a smaller scale.”

Working together helps us reach more families

Before she was hired as our Resource Mobilization Consultant, Catherine — who previously worked with Mercy Corps in Iraq — had already spent a year collecting goods for Syrian refugees on her own.

Having lived in Syria for three years, Catherine developed a connection to the captivating country where her youngest child was born. “We lived in Damascus working for the UN for three years before moving to Jordan. During that time we grew to love Syria: its culture, history, cuisine and especially its people who were genuine and honest.”

A multinational team of volunteers in Jordan is the backbone of Catherine’s operation. “My volunteers are very motivated, and when Syrian volunteers started to arrive to help, that motivation became more real. Some of them have been injured or were depressed, but sorting donations, loading trucks, buying essentials and being able to help families, has given many a sense of purpose and keeps them busy.”

Seeing the impact that Catherine’s work was having, Jordan Country Director Rob Maroni felt that we would be able to provide more to refugees by collaborating with Catherine and her team of volunteers.

While Catherine uses her network to gather local donations, Mercy Corps funds the packaging and distribution of the goods that Catherine collects, ensuring they get to even more families who need them.

Local support building community resilience

Catherine’s resource mobilization also assists Jordanian families. Even before the Syria crisis, over 14% of Jordanians lived in poverty — and the situation has only grown more challenging as limited resources are spread among an even larger population in need.

Ibtisam, Khalid and their three boys, also live in A Sareeh, their hometown. The family struggles to care for the youngest, five-year-old Yamen, who has the incurable genetic illness Hunter Disease. His father Khalid explained what the boy suffers from: “Brain atrophy, mental disability, muteness, with time he will lose the ability to hear, to walk…” His young body will deteriorate until it fails.

“No matter how severe other challenges are, they all pale to what matters the most: Yamen,” said his mother Ibtisam.

Through donations that Catherine collected, we were able to supply the family with desperately needed clothes, kitchen supplies and two cases of milk. “The milk was very useful, because it’s the only food that Yamen can consume,” Ibtisam explained.

Thanks to the donations collected by Catherine and her team of volunteers, Mercy Corps is able to ease this family’s stresses — and those of so many more — by providing them with needed daily living essentials.

Catherine and her volunteers directly support our mission to help refugees and host communities in Jordan. As Elena said, “Mercy Corps’ mission focuses on local communities and increasing their own capacity to handle stresses. Building the volunteer culture and mobilizing local communities for support is part of increasing that resilience and self-reliance.”

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