Operation: Joy to Sahab
Dates: June 19-23
Location: Sahab, Jordan
Clowns Who Care Team: Ali, Sol, Omar, Mai, Hasna, Zayd, Piia, Sara and Mina.
Ground team: Headed by Catherine, Elyssa and Majed.
Amman Volunteers: Olive, Susan, Ollie and others.
By Mina Liccione
My husband, Ali Al Sayed, and I have been wanting to do some work in the Syrian Refugee camps for a while now but the timings never seemed to work out. This year we decided we MUST make it happen. We couldn’t sit back and not help these kids. As comedians, it’s our JOB to bring laughter to the masses…especially those in need. We blocked out calendar days for our mission and no matter what other events came up we politely declined. We decided to name the project “Operation: Joy to Sahab” because it expressed our objective transparently. Our intentions were simple, to bring joy, love, art, hope and support to the families residing in the Sahab Syrian Refugee Camp.
We were told that the camp was a tented community 60 miles north of Amman acting as a home to an estimated 300 Syrian refugee families. Initially we were informed that there were approximately 150 kids but in a few weeks’ time the number jumped to 270+. We were surprised to learn how quickly the number of refugees was growing on a daily basis.
The week prior to our departure was spent finalizing details, redesigning the program to fit the larger number of kids, meeting with our team of volunteers and dividing items for packing. Al Gurg Stationary was generous enough to donate all the art supplies. From markers and pencils to sketch pads and colored paper to glue sticks… and everything in between. We are very grateful for their kindness and support.
In addition, as individuals, we collected monies from friends and family in order to be able to buy much needed supplies for the camp. Our goal was to be able to provide a supply of dates, per family, for the duration of the Holy month of Ramadan as well as distribute fresh fruit, juice and snacks to all of the kids on both activity days. Upon asking Catherine (from the NGO we were in contact with) what else the camp needed, she informed us that baby formula, diapers, vitamin fortified powder milk were at the top of the list. That, in turn, became our focus. One of our volunteers, Mai, was very active in helping find resources in Jordan including a company who agreed to offer baby supplies at cost.
On Thursday, June 19th our team of 6 adults and 4 youth flew to Amman, Jordan. The first two days were spent shopping for supplies, organizing materials, creating recycled instruments, rehearsing and preparing for our activity days on-site. Then the big day came. It was time to head to the Sahab Camp!
The following morning we packed up three SUV’s and hit the road. A little over an hour later we arrived to the site. The camp was not in good condition. There were some tents made out of old rice bags sewn together and others using trash bags as windows. There was garbage everywhere. You could see the heat rising from the sand. Then a little head appeared. A young boy peaking from behind a thick sheet that was being used as a doorway. He slowly walked outside staring at us as our SUV drove in. I remember wondering if he was going to smile. I waved, and he waved back…. But no smile just yet.
Then we parked the cars and slowly got out. Within moments there were kids walking towards us. Waving. Smiling. Wanting to hold our hands. Their hair was dirty and their little faces were tanned from the sun. Almost cracking. Their eyes penetrated deep as if they could see right through us. They were happy we were there. They knew we were coming. They were curious to see who we were just as we were to meet them. A minute later smiles appeared like a beautiful sunrise. The clapping and cheering was contagious. We knew it was going to be a great day.
Day 1 was scheduled for the girls. Day 2 was scheduled for the boys. Each day we split the kids into groups based upon their ages and had them rotate between creative activities. Ali and I led the performing arts tent. We danced, played theater games, taught them clown routines, make music out of recycled instruments, sang and of course, LAUGHED! We were thrilled to see how much the kids, girls and boys, loved the workshops. After each game or exercise they would shout “Again! Again!” The beauty of performing arts is that it’s physical which allows them to release stress, relieve anxiety and pent up energy. In addition, it allowed them to just PLAY and be kids! They didn’t want the session to end, nor did our additional volunteers who assisted and joined in.
The Art Tent was led by our dear friend and colleague, Sol. She designed a lesson plan that included three art projects per workshop. Projects included decorating hearts for someone they love, making jewelry and masks out of pipe cleaners, drawings and much more. Additional team members and ground volunteers aided to ensure the kids got more personal attention.
Another important factor was getting to meet the teachers. Two of the regular camp teachers attended all of our workshops. They were able to learn new teaching techniques to hopefully be able to apply to their lessons. The male teacher asked many questions and was very inspired by the lessons. We were happy to be able to leave all the left over art supplies and instruments with them so that they can continue the work started.
We also met a gentleman who lived in the tent right next door to the school we were leading performing arts in. He enjoyed watching all of the classes over the two days we were there. He would come into the tent between classes and bring us a pot of tea. He had such little and yet he insisted he show us hospitality. He had a young baby girl, about one year old. Mashallah she was gorgeous. She smiled, clapped along to the music and desperately wanted to stand on her own two feet. Her father told us that she is the only daughter, of three, who survived. He also told us that she is small for her age because his wife isn’t able to breast feed her. Our hearts grew heavy as we tried not to cry. Her name was Amal, which means ‘hope.’
After the daily workshops were complete we then handed out the food. Handing out food in an organized manner was quite challenging but the ground team has a system in place that we abided by. It could’ve easily became extremely chaotic but we managed to keep the cues in order as if it were an assembly line. Every kid received a banana, juice box and chocolate pie. We were particularly conscious of making sure we gave the kids fresh fruit because that is not something they receive very often as most of their food is dry supplies.
We were all emotional after that first day but also MOTIVATED. Our lessons for the boys were different from the girls so we made sure to take time to switch gears and prepare for our second day. I have to say, the girls had just as much energy as the boys did. Both groups were as aggressive as the other as well. On the flip side, both groups were also very tentative when needed to be and equally loved the creative workshops.
It was extremely difficult to pack up and leave. Ali and I decided after day 1 that we wanted to build a bridge program that allowed us to return on a more regular basis. Not only do we want to keep the arts education growing for the children but we also want to help train their teachers and potentially offer classes for the Moms as well.
On behalf of our entire team, I say that it was truly an honor to get to work with these children and meet these brave men and women. We were deeply moved and will continue to help improve the well being of Syrian refugees. To learn more about how YOU can get involved please visit Mercy Corps’ website: http://www.mercycorps.org/jordan
Images by Omar Al Gurg