Six months on from Jordan and living out of a backpack for 40 hours

29/07/2016 by World Vision New Zealand


Six months on from Jordan and living out of a backpack for 40 hours

Things I’ve learnt six months after travelling to Jordan, written by Monika Hao:

First of all - six months?! It’s crazy how time flies. I can’t believe it has been that long since the team was in Jordan.

Sometimes a familiar smell or sight will take me straight back to Azraq Camp as if it were only yesterday;

the sight of little children playing tag after school, white painted houses and even the delicious smell of similar black tea! The invaluable experience and privilege of meeting such incredible human beings who have seen, felt and heard things that will make your heart cry for justice will always be imprinted in my mind. These precious memories will always be with me because their stories and struggles are real. To be able to share these with my friends, family and you, let me fall in love with the power of youth!

Youth Ambassadors walk towards Azraq refugee camp. Image by Jo Currie.

New Zealand youth have immense passion for justice.

Six months later, I’ve learnt that the New Zealand youth have immense passion for justice and we can see that throughout the different activities undergone during the 40 Hour Famine. Flip, have you been keeping up with the 40 Hour Famine NZ Facebook page? If not, there have been some creative, crazy and committed individuals who have collectively worked to change the lives of the families we met. Walking for forty hours, gaming for forty hours, drawing for forty hours… and most completing the 40 hour backpack challenge.

I’ve learnt a lot from the 40 Hour Famine backpack challenge. The purpose of the new challenge was for us to experience what it may be like if we could only live out of our backpack. In the uncontrollable situation refugees are faced with, many must live minimally. At first you wouldn’t think this is difficult, right? Well…I didn’t. Boy, was I wrong! There are so many little things in our everyday living that we take for granted but would have been so useful over the 40 hours. A nail clipper would have been nice. Realising that this must be a problem that refugees deal with every day made me think about how many things we take for granted and how difficult it must be having nothing but what you have in a little canvas backpack. 

Monika walks around Azraq refugee camp. Image by Jo Currie.

The challenge was only a small insight into one of many difficulties our friends in Azraq Camp have experienced.

I cannot imagine the situation where everything known to me is gone.

The backpack challenge let me plan carefully what to bring and shuffle my chosen items around like a Tetris game until everything I wanted could fit. Even then, the items I chose barely sufficed throughout the weekend. Refugees would not have been given the generous time to do what I did and probably to pack as much as I did either! 

I had to stop for a moment. That was a real eye-opener.

Another thing I learnt six months later was that hunger for justice was not a give or take thing or something you inherit after reaching the stellar age of 15, 17 or even 19. The challenges were completed by people of all ages. I learnt that passion for justice was ignited in all people, from seven-year-olds having a famine sleep over to 50-year-olds to donating towards the 40 Hour Campaign. I learnt that the passion to help is not bounded by any demographic and this truly inspired hope.

The last thing I have learnt is that we need to continuously remind ourselves:

Though the 40 Hour Famine is over this year for us, the war is not over for our brothers and sisters in Jordan. We must keep up this passion for justice!

I want to say thank you. Thank you to everyone who supported the amazing youth campaign to bring Child Friendly Spaces to the children we met staying at the refugee camps. Thank you to the brilliant individuals who spent 40 hours in June pouring their efforts in to challenge themselves. Thank you to everyone who contributed to make an immeasurable difference in the lives of others.

Reflecting on the power of Kiwi youth, written by Chelsea Yeoman:

There were piles of colourful backpacks across the floor, bulging with blankets, food, water, books. Everything we need to survive for the weekend was crammed into a small backpack. My youth group was busy making their cardboard homes comfortable to sleep in for the night but little did we know that our makeshift homes were about to be destroyed, our lives upturned, and we were forced out of our shelters, and to sleep on the cold hard floor.

Their faces as they helplessly watched the adults destroy their homes were a mix of horror and confusion, and this really moved me. These feelings we were all having was only a tiny insight into what Syrian refugees experienced as they were forced to flee their homes and their country, desperate to find somewhere safe from the war that has destroyed their country.

That night as we slept in our sleeping bags, living off whatever we squeezed into our backpacks, we knew that we would wake up safe in the morning, that we could go back to our homes and to our families.

I wish I could say the same for the Syrian refugees I now call my friends.

Youth Ambassadors sit and share stories with Hussam (middle). Image by Jo Currie.
When I would think about everyone I met in Jordan: Hussam, Ghadeer, Rakai, Hussain, I felt so helpless.

Sometimes the situation would overwhelm me to the point of tears.

I met people just like me, young Syrian refugees, trapped in camps, stuck in life that was moving nowhere, with so little to look forward to. How could we ever help?

Chelsea Yeoman in Amman, Jordan. Image by Jo Currie.

But what I saw over the weekend of the 40 Hour Famine showed me how much individuals can achieve when we come together. As the excitement built for the One Weekend, One Backpack challenge, events started popping up all over the country. Lives were crammed into backpacks, people stopped eating, and there were sleepovers, walkathons, soccer tournaments, car washes, sleeping in the streets, 40 hours of radio broadcasting. It blew me away that hundreds of thousands of young people, just like me and you, actually understood. You understood the suffering of these kids, you understood their hopelessness, and you understood that we must help. These kids are our brothers and our sisters.

We stood together in their shoes.

It wasn’t an easy weekend, I got so frustrated when I realised I didn’t pack something vital (I had to trade food for water after I forgot my water bottle). But it made me also appreciate the things I had packed like warm clothes, my sleeping bag, food, even my diary, and the amount of time I had to pack them.

Raghad with her new books. Image by Jo Currie.

It reminded me of a wee girl I met called Raghad, she was just 5 years old and after being forced to flee from everything she has ever known she ended up in Jordan. But this beautiful girl was filled with hope! She had just received a backpack full of stationery and books so she can now go to school, so she can start to learn things, she can now dream for her future.

We have given kids like Raghad hope.

It’s been a pretty heart wrenching experience to meet families so badly affected by this massive crisis but has also been so heart-warming to see that there is so much hope and that we can make a difference in the lives of Syrian children, and help these kids will just be able to simply be kids again, so thank you.

We may be a tiny country across the over side of the world from Syria and Jordan but together we are actually going to make such a difference.

Monika Hao and Chelsea Yeoman travelled to Jordan as a 2016 World Vision Youth Ambassadors, encouraging Kiwi youth to participate in the 40 Hour Famine through school talks and media appearances.

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