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By numzzz123


Receiving an award for for my service at the Hemma Celebration

In my first blog post I discussed how you should “trust God, but always tie your camel,” a reference in Muslim culture to the idea that although it’s good to hope for the best and go with the flow, it’s your responsibility to make the effort and take steps in a certain direction if you want something to happen. Before I left America, I raised funds for my time abroad. These funds were to be used for a research project I hoped to undertake in Jordan. Before I traveled, I created a “tangible goals” list, but I had left enough room for flexibility in case the unexpected occurred, which is actually what happened.

As I mentioned in my last post, through my work at Project Amal ou Salam, I met a Syrian man. It turns out that his brother owned a Syrian volunteer group called “Hemma,” a group which brings both physical relief and relief in the form of training and human development to Syrian refugees. I attended an awards ceremony they held for their one-year anniversary, where they recognized me for the work I had done with Syrians in Project Amal ou Salam. As I saw all of the work they were doing, and did some research on my own, I realized that I had found a perfect outlet to connect what I was learning in class to what I wanted to do in the field. In my coursework, I study economic development, and how that occurs through human development. I met with the leaders of Hemma, and together we came up with a project.

This project involves training Syrian refugees here in Amman, ages 10-15, to volunteer. Although this seems very simple from the eyes of a westerner, the concept of ‘civil society’ is something that is not prevalent in this culture. This project will train Syrian refugee students for one month on how to volunteer. Then, they will create volunteer projects on their own, and will be able to implement it through the help of Hemma. I met with the leaders of Hemma group all throughout last week to work out every part of this project, as we figured out the logistics, the reasoning behind it, the impact it would leave and how to make it sustainable so that it could continue on into the future. The funds I raised for my research will be used to jump-start this long-term/sustainable project.

Brainstorming and project planning

The goal of this project is to teach these students a new skill for life. They will then have the opportunity to be their own leaders and create their own projects, which will be empowering them. As their volunteer projects come to life, we will be documenting them and spreading them around through different outlets, including online, newspapers and TV media. This will spread the word about the project even more, attracting not only donors (which we need to continue to make this project sustainable), but also other young people who will see the value behind the work that these young people are engaging in. With the current civil war in Syria, it is not feasible to just have refugees come into the country without properly integrating them into society. This will contribute not just to Syrians, but Jordanian society as well, as the hope of the project is for it to spread to Jordanian students as well. With this project, we hope to increase the lack of civil society in the country, strengthen institutions, and instill the values of public service in whole generation. All of this counts as human development, which in turn, will hopefully lead to economic development.

By numzzz123

IMG_3248Working with Syrian Refugee Children in Project Amal ou Salam has been eye opening in more ways than one. Through subtle signs and mannerisms throughout the week, I was able to read into their lives. I could see their poverty in the way they quietly saved the food we gave them, to bring it home to their brothers and sisters. I saw their vulnerability and hurt in the way they held on to each other, in a bond of understanding none of us could comprehend. Many without parents, I saw the lack of nurturing in the way they clung on to the volunteers throughout the day, longing to receive the attention they deserve.

We took them to sports class where they learned about unity, photography where they learned about viewing one event from different perspectives, to art where they “rebuilt Syria,” music where they participated in harmonizing, and trust/team building, where they utilized and embraced the power of standing by each other. I knew the camp’s efforts had left an impact, as the kids made us promise to come back again at the end of each day.

Project Amal ou Salam is in the stage of reflection now. We have been discussing what went well, what can be improved for future camps, and what kind of impact it left on us as well. The next camp will be held in August at the Syrian border in Lebanon. Now that I’ve finally worked with this group first hand, it is time for me to take the next step.

Earlier this week, I met with the owner of Hemmah Volunteering group, who is the brother of one of the volunteers I worked with at Project Amal ou Salam. Hemmah Volunteering Group is a social working trust group, which helps people in emergency and development. The Hemmah Group does a lot of aid relief for Syrian refugees all over Jordan, from providing logistical support, physical support emotional support, and more. The goal of Hemmah is to not just to bring about short-term relief, but with the trained psychologists as part of the team, they work towards a long-term sustainable recovery. One of the biggest problems dealing with refugees is the fact that many development organizations give them what they think the refugees want, rather then taking time to talk to the people and figure out what they actually need and want. After my experience working with 1,000 Syrian refugee children in one week, I will now have the chance to speak one on one with families and get a more in depth understanding about their situations over a longer period of time.


There is no immediate end of this conflict in sight, but the victims, especially the little ones, of the Syrian war are alive and every day they face struggle. They are the future of Syria and more efforts like this are needed to empower the youth. The future of the world lies within the youth, and for a peaceful tomorrow, we need to create more efforts to instill hope and education in them today.

By zamorse

Once a week on Monday afternoons my friend Maya and I take a bus to a Holocaust Survivors Center in Haifa to volunteer. The Holocaust, or the Shoah in Hebrew, is a sensitive topic in Israel and there are only a few thousand still alive, both in Israel, the United States, and around the world. The State of Israel was founded in 1948 in the aftermath of WWII, and the Holocaust was one of the driving forces in creating the country. Thus, the government of Israel goes to great lengths to protect and care for its Holocaust survivors.

That background sets the state for the kind of experience I have every week. The survivors have an entire community within a neighborhood in Haifa just for them, including a community center, doctors office, apartments, and a dining room. Volunteers like myself come all the time everyday to help care for them. My job every week is to help prepare dinner in the kitchen, and then eat dinner with the survivors at the dinner table.

It's not a very hard job, which allows me to spend a lot of time with them every week. Another great thing about the center is that most of them never learned English and they speak Hebrew really slowly, so it's a great chance for me to get to practice my Hebrew (since most Israelis speak to you in English once they know you're American). Most importantly though, it's a great chance to hear their stories. There aren't that many Holocaust survivors left, and it's really important for me as a Jew, but also as a human being, to hear their stories before they are all gone.


By numzzz123


A Bedouin man was in the desert with his camel. At night, he was going to sleep and did not tie his camel. When asked why he didn’t, he said that he trusted God to keep his camel there the next day. When he woke up the next day, it wasn’t.

Moral of the story? Trust God, but always tie your camel.     This is a hadith, a prophetic saying, known by many in the Middle East.

Going into the Middle East, I was hopeful that I would be able to do in country networking and locate a volunteer opportunity while there. However, before I left the USA, I made sure to tie my camel. In other words, although I trusted God, I made sure to put in the effort to do research about current efforts in the Middle East, rather than just hoping something would present itself to me while I was there.

It was so easy to dream up all of the possibilities from my bubble in America, but I knew the realities of the situation would be much different once I arrived in the country, and I wanted to be prepared. I was lucky enough that one of my cousins in America married a Jordanian, so she was able to guide me in the right direction and give me an idea of the realities before I arrived in country. I realized early on in the process that although I had some smaller research goals I wanted to tackle on my own, there would be many obstacles to entering into any of the refugee camps. I had to find a way around this, and that was to gain access by being part of a larger organization. I looked up a number of multi national organizations that were active around Amman and in Zaatari, the largest Syrian refugee camp in Jordan.  These included UNHCR, UNICEF, Mercy Corps and more. I also looked into smaller NGOs that were local, because working in a smaller organization would provide me with a completely different experience than working in a large one.

While I was doing my searching, I kept coming across a name. This person was actively doing work with Syrian Refugees all over the region, including in Jordan. After doing some more research, I realized he worked for CRDC – The Center for World Religions, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution. I found an email address online and decided to take the chance and send an email to see if there was an opportunity to work with them while abroad.  At this point, I had nothing to lose...and a lot to gain.

I ended up getting a response. They wanted to meet with me in Amman. When I arrived in Amman, I met up with two employees of CRDC. As we began talking, I found out that they were spearheading a project called Project Amal ou Salam. It was a week long camp for Syrian Refugee children, which was to be held in March. This seemed exactly like the hands on opportunity I was looking for, and I immediately jumped on board.

Project Amal ou Salam was founded in Summer 2013. The first camp was held for Syrian Refugee children in Turkey, and it was a success. The second camp was going to be held in Jordan, on the outskirts of Zaatari. Most of the aid that is sent to the refugees goes into one of the camps. Within the camp, there are many resources for children, including activities, sports, schools, etc. However, there are many Syrian refugee towns right outside of Zaatari, who live in meager conditions and receive no aid at all. This is where the Camp directors felt the most impact could be left. This camp would be bigger than before, bringing in 250 different Syrian children a day, and held in two different locations throughout the week. The purpose of the camp is to bring empowerment to these children who have grown up in war, to give them hope and remind them that they are the future of Syria.

The camp has different stations for art, music, photography, dealing with trauma, and much more. It brings in volunteers from countries around the world. This is only the second of its kind, with the other one operating in Turkey. I have been assigned as an intern of CRDC for this project. I am working directly with the Camp director in dealing with the logistics of this camp. Over the next few weeks leading up to the camp, I will be doing hands on work including doing site visits for the camp, working closely with the volunteers arriving from the country, working out details of supplies and day to day issues, and much more. On the actual days of the camp, I will be a team leader. I will have a different group of 50 Syrian refugee children assigned to me each day and will be in charge of them for the whole day. I am really excited and nervous at the same time. This is more than anything I could have dreamed of. Not only will I be working with such inspiring and ambitious people who will be running the camp, but I will have a rare opportunity to interact with the children of this conflict which is just a news story for so many around the world. I will be taking pictures and am excited to let you know how it goes.

By christinatometchko

Can you imagine being 10 or 12 years old and having a science or art class taught in an entirely different language?  If you're an elementary school student living in Barcelona, this is the norm.

The official language in Barcelona is Catalan-- a mixture of Spanish and French-- that is native to the Cataluyna region of northern Spain. During Francisco Franco's dictatorship in the twentieth century, the Catalan language was outlawed in Spain and school was exclusively taught in Spanish. Following Franco's death in 1975, the ban on Catalan was lifted and many cities throughout northern Spain re-instituted it as their official language.

Flash forward to present day Barcelona and school is now primarily taught in Catalan with additional classes in Spanish and English. From the first day of kindergarten to the end of their primary school education, students in Barcelona are taught in three different languages and often end up being fluent or at least conversational in each one of them. I can't wrap my head around learning three different languages at such a young age and give the Spanish education system so much credit for recognizing the importance of knowing more than one language in this increasingly globalized world!

It's also really interesting that students in Barcelona don't just have an English class or a Spanish class where they learn about grammar and sentence structure.  In addition to those basic language courses, they also have other classes like Math and History that are taught in another language. While I'm sure this can be very difficult for some students, it's a great way to help them vastly expand their vocabulary and learn the language in a relatively quick amount of time.

I witnessed some of these struggles with the language barrier during my first day volunteering in an Art classroom at the Pare Poveda school. The class was taught entirely in English, the students were required to speak in English, and they even listened to American music as they were working on their projects. As I walked around the classroom and helped the students with their work, I spoke to them in English and was surprised by the vast differences in their levels of comprehension. Some students understood everything that I said and were able to respond fluently in English. Some students understood a little of what I said but could only respond in Spanish. And some students didn't understand a single thing that I said and just nodded their heads and smiled politely when I spoke.

Throughout the afternoon I had to consciously stop myself from speaking Spanish when the students were confused or didn't understand what I was saying. Even though that would have made things so much easier, it wouldn't do anything to help them improve their English which was my main purpose for being there. Instead, I had to find creative ways to get my point across like using my hands to help explain what I was saying or drawing things that I was trying to talk about. While communicating with the students was a bit tricky at times, I had so much fun and can't wait to volunteer again next week!

By christinatometchko

No pasa nada! This phrase, loosely translated to mean "Don't worry about a thing", is the epitome of the laid-back Spanish lifestyle. Whether it's going for a stroll along the beach or taking a two hour lunch in the middle of the work day, Spaniards sure do know how to relax and enjoy life. This carefree, laid-back style of life was one of the main reasons that I decided to study in Barcelona this semester and I must say, it has yet to disappoint!

Don't get me wrong... I love living in our nation's bustling capital, but I'm always so busy with class, work, and interning that I rarely have the time to just relax and enjoy all of the amazing things that D.C. has to offer. Studying in Barcelona through the IES Abroad Liberal Arts and Business Program has allowed me to take a step back and appreciate the small things in life. Whether it's going for a stroll in between classes through Parque de la Ciudadela, running along the beach, or spending the morning wandering through La Boqueria market, there are so many fun ways to spend the day.

While I"m excited to explore Barcelona and all of its unique barrios, this semester isn't just about relaxing and taking a break from my hectic life at GW. At the end of my four months in Spain I want to be able to call Barcelona home and say that I truly immersed myself in this amazing city. In my opinion, the best way to do that is through volunteering.

Back in the states, I'm a summer camp counselor and DC Reads tutor and am looking forward to continuing my tradition of working with kids while in Barcelona. Throughout the course of the semester I'll be volunteering in a classroom at the Pare Poveda School where I'll be helping a teacher with both instruction and classroom management. I'm so excited to work in a Spanish elementary school and see what it's like in comparison to schools in America. My first day volunteering is this week so make sure to check back next month to hear more about my experience!

By skatz14

What a whirlwind this experience has been! It has gone by faster than I thought possible. As I am finishing up at my volunteering site, I have been thinking about this whole journey and how it has impacted me and what I have learned. I started my volunteering experience happy with what was ahead of me, but unclear of what types of relationships I would build with my students. Over the course of this experience, I have seen my student’s achievements as well as their struggles. I supported my students by listening and helping, and as a result I gained their trust.

For me, the best part of this experience was building the strong relationships that I now have with my students and will continue to remember. It is hard for me to think that when I say goodbye to my kids, I will not be able to keep in direct contact with them and see how they are doing in school and in life. I would love to be able to know how they are doing and where they end up. Although most of my students have been exposed to certain things that no one should ever be exposed to, especially as 9 and 10 year olds, I see the drive and passion in many of them to get past the negatives in their lives. I believe that many of them will persevere against the odds and end up in good places later on in life. ...continue reading "The Final Goodbye"

By skatz14

Alas, I have begun volunteering in Cape Town! I am volunteering through an organization that is run through the University of Cape Town. It is called SHAWCO, and it is one of South Africa’s largest student volunteer organizations. SHAWCO’s goals are to help with skill development and provide educational programming to youth in Townships and communities around the Cape Town area.

SHAWCO is the base organization, but it has many branches, or sub-organizations, which each have programming specific for that branch. The branch of SHAWCO that I am volunteering with is called Kenstep and it is located at a SHAWCO center in a community called Kensington, about twenty minutes from the University. At 2:45pm every afternoon that I volunteer, a bus picks up all of the volunteers and brings us to Kenstep! ...continue reading "SHAWCO: The Beginning of a Beautiful Friendship"