Thursday, October 10, 2013

Syrian children have Midlanders' support, but need it from around the world

Father Wissam Massadeh, right, with a student from Karak School.

KARAK, Jordan — When I first received the call back in March from a friend asking me if I would consider traveling to Jordan to do some reporting work, saying no was not an option. How often would such an opportunity present itself?

As the months dragged on and the heat and drought seemed to elongate the summer, as they often do in West Texas, clarity about exactly what that call would ultimately mean never really revealed itself. Arriving this week, an abundance of 'whys' still accompanied me. Even this morning, there was a lingering 'Why?' I thought shouldn't be there any longer.

And then the strangest thing happened. Farah, our driver, with Caritas Jordan, a non-governmental global humanitarian relief organization, drove us 140 kilometers south into the bleakness of the Jordanian desert. As late afternoon arrived, we pulled into Karak, a tiny village with a Catholic parish and school that is home to about 80 Jordanian families. I met Father Wissam Massadeh, a 30-year-old Jordan native who has been in the priesthood for just four years.

The Catholic school he oversees in Karak educates well over 100 Syrian children. We met about fifty of them in the playground of the school and when I say met them, I mean met them. Spontaneously, each child looked up at me, shook my hand and said hello. The kids in this village, the most remote place I have ever been, have learned much from Fr. Wissam. He has taught them manners, the alphabet, children's songs, days of the week, and months and seasons of the year. All in English.

The priest spoke of a young student who, like most all Syrian refugees here, have literally nothing. Every day, the child says to Fr. Wissam, Alhamdulillah, Arabic for, "Thanks be to God."

It was in Karak today that I learned why I am here. It was here that I learned that people are the same everywhere. West Texas or Southern Jordan, people just want to love and be loved; to not ever lose hope, to have faith and be able to nurture it, and to be surrounded by the comfort of family, whether that be mother, father, brother, sister, priest or schoolmate.

The love the Syrian students have for Father Wissam and for one another is likely what keeps all of them going from day to day.

To think that the generosity of Midland, Texas, is responsible for that boggles the mind. Midlanders funded 3,000 Syrian refugee students — including 1,000 in Jordan — at a cost of about $500 for each child for the year.

It took 18 hours to get here and it will take at least as long to get home in a couple of days. Why would anyone that far away care about the plight of children they have never met?  The Caritas slogan is posted throughout offices in Jordan: "One Humanity, Zero Poverty." Poverty, of course, comes in many forms and it will take much more than the generosity of Midland to one day achieve a zero balance.

Why, then, do Midlanders care about Muslim children? That's the "one humanity" part. To witness the work of this young priest interacting with the Syrian students is to witness something akin to a little miracle in action. As long as Fr. Wissam continues to come into the lives of these Syrian Muslim children, he takes away all boundaries of state, nationality and religion. What the kids in Karak see is humanity in action. Christianity in action. The Church in action. And Caritas in action. The kids at the Karak school don't care what religion Father Wissam is. All they care about is being able to see him every day and to feel loved by him every day.

Understanding the impact of this effort by Midlanders can be difficult. But for the children here, and in Mafraq, Zarqa, Amman and elsewhere, it is both simple and tangible: if the generosity of Midlanders was not forwarded to the Caritas and Catholic Relief Services to help fund the program, the children would just not be going to school. Many have already fallen as many as two years behind in their formal educations in Syria. The educations they receive by way of Midland allows them to continue learning.

The long-term impact is perhaps a bit more abstract but just as important: for every day they go to their schools here, the Muslim children from Syria are on the receiving end of love and care offered by a community of people who just so happen to be Catholic Christians. Factored out over 10 or 20 years — when their lives will have hopefully returned to normal — the memories these schoolchildren retain of this time in their lives, of being helped by people who were Christian — who wanted love, faith, hope and family just like they did — could easily alter their life. And perhaps the bonds and love being developed and shared here now, not only between the kids and Fr. Wissam, but with other Jordanian volunteers and workers, too, may somehow impact the world.

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