Assad was born in Zarqa; a Jordanian city which swelled since the late 1940’s with Palestinian refugees. Over the years, poor quality housing replaced the tents where many Palestinians once lived and new generations of people were born. Since the conflict in Syria erupted in 2011, a new intake of Syrian refugees came to Zarqa, with a different set of customs and cultures. Many Syrians came with entire families and were willing to rent houses for upwards of 20 people, Local landlords seized the opportunity to charge higher rents, forcing out Jordanian families who had lived in their homes for years.
For Assad, who has lived in Zarqa his entire life, he noticed a growing tension between the local community and the new intake of Syrians. He said “I used to work in butchers and I saw fights breaking out between Jordanians and Syrians. The kids would throw stones at one another and there was more generally a clear divide between the two people”
He continued, “The butchers I used to work in was in a shopping mall and I worked there overnight. Many Syrians were being employed illegally for a lot lower a wage and so Jordanians lost their jobs”
Assad was motivated to join ActionAid’s fellowship programme to work towards uniting his community. He was given training in how to deliver psychosocial support and protection and subsequently delivered group sessions to Syrians and Jordanians. Through facilitating group sessions, the Jordanian and Syrian communities were united and were better able to understand one another’s situations. As Assad was born and bred in Zarqa, he was able to unite community members who would otherwise have been uninterested in taking part in such a session.
Assad facilitated psychosocial support sessions men. He said “Men in Zarqa, whether they are Jordanian or Syrian have a number of different social problems. Being out of work for example, causes depression and can have other consequence such as being violent towards their wives”
“Many of the men I spoke to do cheap and dangerous work such as working in building sites and the women are often forced into early marriage and sometimes into prostitution”
Assad felt pride through his own facilitation to build up community cohesion and cited numerous of Jordanians helping Syrians to find cheap and affordable housing, offering one another informal work and many men stopping the violent behavior towards their wives. But for Assad, one person sticks out.
“One man I worked with (who shall remain nameless) was addicted to drugs. He had got in with the wrong crowd and felt life was hopeless. Through the psychosocial support I gave him, he came off the drugs and even ended up getting a job as an accountant. Not only has his own life improved, but also that of his family”
Assad feels that the fellowship programme is institutionalized into the community and he has seen a marked improvement in his local area. He said “It doesn’t matter whether this continues as an NGO programme, we will continue to use the skills we learnt, and mobilize groups. Our circle is like a family now and continues to grow all the time.”