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Jordan: school, a place where communities are built
15 March 2013

The centre of the JRS informal education programme, which gives refugees a place where they can suture their lives back together in each other’s company, as a community.
That's why we come here, because it feels like home. I don't know what I would do without it.
Amman, 15 March 2013 – Life is full of haphazard coincidences. That is how I discovered the Jesuit Refugee Service. On a study trip in the Amman looking to interview refugees for my research, I was given a list of telephone numbers, one of which was for JRS Jordan.

Not just looking to meet Iraqis, I also wanted to give something back to them and their communities, instead of only listening to their stories and converting them into 'data' for my dissertation. A few phone calls later, there I was, standing in front of the black gates to the school in Ashrafiyeh, a working-class neighbourhood in Amman, ready to teach at the JRS informal education project.

My first English class comprised some fifteen adults – men, women; old, young; Iraqi, Jordanian, Palestinian, Sudanese, Somali and Syrian. They all spoke English quite well, yet despite this, they still had vastly different reading and writing levels. 

For the entire three-month session, I struggled to find activities that kept all the students focused and learning. In the end, I'm not sure if it was a total success: my class visibly thinned after the first few weeks. 

On one particularly frustrating day when I had the class read excerpts from The Little Prince – which they seemed to find boring or antiquated – I walked out into the courtyard during a break to stretch my legs, and soothe my nerves.

On any given day, break-time is a beehive of activity. People chat in small groups, discussing everything – from their classes to their families, UN procedures to politics. Children whizz past, scream, buy sweets from a street vendor, and play football.

And then it dawned on me suddenly, that my frustration may have been misplaced, that this might be more of a meeting place than an educational opportunity. Sure, students pick up some English, but more than anything, JRS gives them a place where, for a few hours a day, they can suture their lives back together in each other's company, as a community.

One of the most popular students at JRS – a middle-aged woman with a smile as wide as an ocean and effervescent energy – has finally been resettled in Atlanta. She sent me an email a few months after leaving Jordan.

I am thrilled to learn that, despite the difficulties, she and her family are settling in well in the US. She makes it a point, however, to ask about JRS. How are her friends? How are the teachers? She misses all of them so much, she writes.

I remember the last time I saw her, rushing down the stairs to grab a coffee before her class started again.

"I wish you could have seen Baghdad. That's why we come here, because it feels like home. I don't know what I would do without it", she said.

Giulia El Dardiry

Giulia El Dardiry worked with JRS Jordan in 2012, whilst preparing her PhD in Anthropology at McGill University in Canada. Prior to her doctoral studies, she worked in international development and humanitarian assistance in Lebanon and Palestine.

JRS Jordan Director, Colin Gilbert, will be making a number of presentations in a number of US universities until 3 April 2013. For further information see the JRS USA website.