Vatican Radio’s Tracey McClure visits a family of Syrian refugees in Jordan, where one young orphaned boy has regained hope thanks to Caritas.
Chady wants to become a doctor one day – to help sick people like his aged grandma, Horyeah who is paralysed from the waist down. He wants to heal the wounded so they don’t end up dead like his parents in the killing fields of Syria. A bomb fell on their car while they came home from market in war-battered Homs.
I was on a visit to Jordan to see how Caritas Jordan is responding to the dire circumstances in which 1.5 million Syrian refugees are living in the country. Circumstances like Chady and his family’s in Jordan’s northern industrial hub, Zarqa.
Today Jordan’s second biggest city, Zarqa lies at the crossroads linking the Hashemite Kingdom to Syria and Iraq in the north and to Saudi Arabia and to Israel to the East and West. Like the rest of Jordan, Zarqa has seen repeated waves of refugees ebb and flow – from Chechens displaced by fighting between the Russian and Ottoman empires to Palestinians and Arabs in the many later conflicts to enflame the Middle East.
Chady greets us at the door of the mouldy and cold ground floor flat he shares with his grandmother, a mentally disabled aunt and three other siblings.
They live in two small rooms with one window and mattresses and rugs their only comfort. No heat, no gas – except for the bottle that Caritas regularly replaces for them every ten days or so – and very little if any, electricity. I peer into a dark recess: is it a closet? No, it’s the bathroom. There is a hole in the ground and a rusty shower nozzle overhead. Someone has fashioned a toilet for Grandma Hoyreah out of a plastic chair: a hole cut out of the centre and a bucket placed underneath.
I ask Chady how old he is. He turns to his grandma for help. Horyeah, whose name means beautiful mermaid, resignedly reminds him from her mat on the floor: you’re ten.
Horyeah married off Chady’s 14 year old sister to a Syrian man: to protect her from rape and to lighten the family’s financial burden. Another sister, seven, goes to school in the afternoon, after the Jordanian kids go home. Chady’s 15 year old brother earns their only income by doing odd jobs: $65 a month.
Chady’s family fled Homs for Jordan in 2013. Their first stop was Zaatari refugee camp not far from the Syrian border. But with more than 80,000 people in the camp and crime, prostitution and drugs rampant, Horyeah and the small children were vulnerable. With help, they “escaped” to Zarqa where they found Caritas.
The Caritas office in Zarqa provided them with kitchen utensils and a cooker and also gives them food and clothes vouchers. Caritas also pays their rent: roughly US$170 a month. Fares Francis, director of the Caritas office in Zarqa, tells me the same flat last year would have gone for half that amount and that landlords and shopkeepers are profiting from the Syrian conflict.
Caritas engineers try to improve the plumbing and make the apartment as “liveable” as possible. It’s a monumental task: there are tens of thousands of Syrian refugee families in similar precarious circumstances. But their limited staff of 34 and 8 volunteers isn’t giving up: they had even ordered a wheel chair for Horyeah to move about.
As we bid goodbye, Horyeah looks down at her dead legs – she has given up hope of ever returning home. How many journalists had she welcomed? Nothing had changed; the war at home still rages. “I won’t be around forever,” she murmurs, gazing at Chady and his younger sister.
Chady escorts us to the door. Before leaving, I ask him, “so, what sort of doctor do you want to be when you’re older?” He beams at me with a smile full of hope: “ A doctor of hearts, of course!”