Jen Compton, a JRS volunteer, helped develop the evening classes programme for Sudanese and Somalis in Amman. In this photo she is hanging out with the JRS football team which competes in the local Jordanian league.
Amman, 28 May 2012 – The first day I volunteered with Jesuit Refugee Service I rode home on the bus from the informal education project with the country director, Colin Gilbert. We discussed the hardships facing urban refugees and all the JRS projects.

Colin told me that almost all of the refugees were from Iraq, but that there had been a few men from Darfur coming to the school. He wondered if there might be a way to get more involved with the Sudanese population in Amman.

"Maybe you could start something with them. Dream about it", he told me.

A week or so later, Colin and I went to visit a house of about 20 Sudanese men between the ages of 20-30 years. We sat on the floor in one of two small sparsely-furnished rooms and sipped the coffee we were graciously offered. Talking to the men, we found out that few understood English, and some were also illiterate in Arabic. Learning a new language was their sole wish, but they couldn’t come to JRS classes in the afternoon because they had to find day jobs to support themselves.

A few friends and I began visiting the house twice a week, giving two-hour English lessons and getting to know the men. They soon told us there were more Sudanese refugees living together in another house that wanted classes. So we started in-home teaching there as well.

A month or so later, two Somali men showed up in the afternoon at the JRS informal education project in Ashrafiyeh. They said they had heard about the classes for Sudanese refugees, and also wanted lessons.

What started as a dream, just a few months later, had become an evening education project with more than a hundred refugees learning together in one room, entirely staffed by volunteers, entirely energised and perpetuated by students.

This community had become my family; I spent Thanksgiving with them, celebrated the trial run of our school; shared in their success of not only learning the English alphabet but also how to form words and sentences. I watched as they also became family, with Sudanese students calling an Iraqi classmate his brother.

This family is what the JRS principle of accompaniment means to me. I accompany refugees, but in a similar way they have been at my side for nearly my entire stay in Jordan.

Accompaniment is a real opportunity to create meaningful connections with people, without which it would be impossible to know their needs. Service is a relationship.

As your service will create change, it requires humility to accept that you will be as changed by this experience. People will care about you as much as you care about them, and will help you and teach you more than you could ever hope to offer.

As I watch Sudanese, Somali, Iraqi, and very recently, Syrian refugees enter our makeshift classroom every evening, I am amazed to see how this project has developed. There are men, women, middle-aged individuals, young adults, and children. How grateful I am that JRS brought us all together.

Jennifer Compton has been volunteering with JRS since September 2011
Countries Related to this Region
Jordan, Syria, Turkey