Islamic Relief and the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) have begun their first joint project, which is improving living standards and tackling community tensions in Jordan.

Islamic Relief and the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) have launched their first joint project since signing a ground-breaking global Memorandum of Understanding to cooperate in humanitarian work earlier this year.

The project works with Syrian refugees and the Jordanian host community. It is centred in Al Mafraq, Jordan – an area closest to the Za’atari camp for Syrian refugees. Some 85,000 people are sheltering at Za’atari, which is now amongst the largest ‘cities’ in Jordan. A further half a million Syrians are living in neighbouring towns.

The project launch follows a visit by LWF delegates to Islamic Relief Jordan, where we involved representatives of the country’s Syrian community in shaping the much-needed scheme.

Conflict arises over resources

The presence of hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees living among urban and rural areas in north Jordan puts enormous pressure on public services such as schools and hospitals, and creates extra demand for water, housing and food. Understandably, this has led to tensions between the Jordanian community and the refugees they are hosting.

“They host us very well,” said Syrian mother-of-two Muna. “But we have two major issues: our children find it hard to make friends with the local children in school, and the rent increases every year”.

The project is working to tackle the issues, with workshops for 300 people to promote hygiene awareness and peace-building. The first workshop with 25 participants started in late September.

“There is a competition for resources” Dr Gideon Saad, programme manager of the LWF country programme in Jordan, said. “By combining these two very different things – sanitation and hygiene with conflict resolution, we address the problem from two sides: we help people to improve living standards while resolving tensions”.

Building bridges across communities

The three-month project will work with Syrians and Jordanians, involving both men and women in weekly courses to promote awareness. The workshops encourage participants to actively and openly share their experiences and impressions of the situation in Al Mafraq, to build bridges that begin on a personal level and spread to the communities.

“The aim of the project is to increase the level of understanding between Syrian refugees and Jordanian host communities regarding their living situation, mentality, values and culture” Elhadi Abdalla Mohammed, Country Director of Islamic Relief Jordan, said. “We aim to equip community leaders and parents to mitigate and resolve conflicts in their communities”.

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Participants respond well to the workshop. “In the beginning I did not speak to the Syrians who had moved in around my house,” a Jordanian woman who is participating in one of the workshops said. “But then our children began to play together and the Syrian mother began giving my children sandwiches and sending greetings to me. Gradually, the relationship grew through our children.”

At the end of the project, 25 people will participate in a ‘Train the Trainer’ workshop – enabling them to conduct similar trainings themselves, so that many more people can benefit.