Colin Gilbert, the JRS Jordan country director with two Somali refugees in the school courtyard in Amman. (Peter Balleis/JRS)

(Amman) February 11, 2013 – Colin Gilbert is soft-spoken, his voice an odd mix of accents from the different places he’s lived. The sprawling Middle Eastern capital of Amman, is a far cry from his hometown of Phoenix, Ariz. As Country Director for Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Jordan, Colin returns to the U.S. from March 10 to April 10 to share his experiences in Jordan, particularly in light of the Syrian crisis, at an array of Jesuit universities, high schools and parishes. 

The aim of Colin’s visit is to increase awareness of JRS Jordan and the work JRS does, to deepen understanding about refugees’ lives and their precarious situation, and to garner support for our work in a variety of different ways — from encouraging volunteers to online donations.

Colin describes how he found himself in the Middle East, working for JRS, and how on a daily basis he strives to uphold the JRS mission of accompany, serve, advocate amongst his colleagues, and amongst the refugees we serve:

"I had just finished my first semester of teaching at a Jesuit high school in Southern California when I began hearing about the bombings in Gaza in early 2009. I had never been so deeply struck by reading international news as a helpless population incurred such immense suffering.

"After several years of accompanying and working with forcibly displaced populations from Latin America, the same desire that led me to accompany immigrants in El Salvador and Colombia was leaving me awake at night, envisioning being in the Middle East. As I returned to teaching, I couldn’t shake this tug at my heart to be in a part of the world where unjustified violence was leaving innocent civilians uprooted. 

"After several trips to the West Bank and Arabic studies, I arrived to Jordan in January of 2011, just as the Arab Spring swung into full force. I found myself working with a team of predominantly Iraqi refugees who were offering non-formal education and emergency assistance to Iraqis in Amman. 

"As the year progressed, we opened the doors of our education initiatives to Sudanese and Somali refugees, for whom there was very little international assistance. As the Syrian crisis unfolded we began accompanying Syrians and providing emergency assistance in Amman and the north of Jordan. We also initiated a higher education program for refugee populations of all nationalities in Jordan through the Jesuit Commons: Higher Education on the Margins initiative.

"Over a span of nine months I found myself shifting from oversight of one project, to oversight of three projects, and also assisting with back-up support for our programs in Syria.

"Our team now find ourselves overwhelmed daily as we seek to continue supporting the more than 30,000 Iraqi, Somali, Sudanese refugees in Jordan while also gearing up emergency assistance to the 300,000 Syrians who have entered the country in the past two years. In the month of January 2013 alone, there were more than 40,000 Syrians who entered Jordan.

"The needs are enormous and we find ourselves carefully discerning daily how to spend our energies and resources seeking to meet the new needs while not forgetting about the refugees who are not being mentioned in international news on a daily basis.

"Each day we come across people whose homes have been destroyed, whose siblings have been tortured and killed, whose education has been interrupted due to their school being bombed, whose children are getting sick because of lack of access to warm blankets.

"We cannot meet all their needs and it is frustrating. As a team we are learning, in light of immense needs and our limited resources, that we can and will continue to be with people and accompany them in times of suffering. 

"Although this response may be incomplete, it has empowering potential. As war rages in Syria, violence increases in Iraq, and Somalia and Darfur remain unsafe, we will continue to walk with refugees in Jordan and attempt to provide hope to their highly uncertain futures."---

The schedule of Colin Gilbert’s presentation, Accompanying Refugees During Times of Crisis in the Middle East: How Jesuit Refugee Service is Responding to the Unfolding Emergency

Monday, March 11, 12:00 p.m.
Brophy College Preparatory — Summit on Human Dignity
Phoenix, Arizona

Wednesday, March 13
Xavier College Prep High School
Palm Desert, California

Thursday, March 14, 7:00 p.m.
Murphy Recital Hall, Loyola Marymount University
Los Angeles, California

Sunday, March 17, 10:00 a.m.
Sacred Heart Chapel Mass, Loyola Marymount University
Los Angeles, California

Tuesday, March 19, 12:00 p.m.
Location To Be Determined
Chicago, Illinois

Wednesday, March 20, 12:00 p.m.
University of San Francisco (exact location TBD)
San Francisco, California

Thursday, March 21, 12:00 p.m.
Bellarmine College Preparatory Justice Summit
San Jose, California

Tuesday, April 2, 7:00 p.m.
St. John Francis Regis Chapel, Regis University
Denver, Colorado

Wednesday, April 3, 7:00 p.m.
Loyola Parish
Denver, Colorado

For more information about Colin’s trip, please contact:

Clare Bonsignore
Jesuit Refugee Service/USA

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