Wendy Brightman is an American Red Cross specialist who has responded to disasters around the world and is currently assisting the Jordanian Red Crescent as they help refugees arriving from Syria.
Q. What is the Red Cross doing in Jordan and what is your role specifically?
The Red Cross/Red Crescent is working on several projects in Jordan, caring for both Syrian and Iraqi refugees, as well as working with Jordanians. A hospital supported is being set up and operated in the newly constructed Syrian refugee camp in Azraq, Jordan and two clinics are offering basic health care in the Amman city area. Additionally, the Red Cross is operating a psychosocial center where people can receive help for mental health needs.
Currently, 85 percent of Syrians living in Jordan are living outside of refugee camps. The Red Cross is providing cash assistance to Syrian refuges in multiple communities in Jordan to help offset the cost of living. Approximately 90 percent of this assistance is helping pay for rent and food for families each month.
My specific role is to support the Jordanian Red Crescent as they begin cash assistance for Syrian refugees in Amman. I am helping to set up the processes and procedures needed to implement a more efficient system
Q. How is your work making a difference?
I am only here for six weeks and that is a very short time to see the impact of the work. However, I hope to leave behind clear processes for the new cash assistance system. Even though this may seem like a bunch of paperwork it is vital to ensure we are using donor dollars efficiently and effective.
In the past two weeks, I have visited people receiving the cash assistance. They are very thankful and continue to tell us how this program is helping them survive in the midst of this difficult crisis. The Syrian refugees explain how they are living closely together with families sharing a small apartment to save on rent. Without the Red Cross/Red Crescent assistance, many said they would be able to keep shelter over their heads.
Q. What is something you want readers to know about the conflict in Syria that they might not be aware of?
The amount of early marriages, both formal and informal, for young women and girls have increased significantly since the conflict began. As Syrian refugees come to Jordan, they often cannot support themselves or their families. They sell assets they have brought in order to survive. One of the ways to "ensure" their female children are cared for is to marry girls at a young age to families who may better care for them. The legal marriageable age in Jordan is 18. One UN study published in 2013 reveals that 33% of Syrian refugee women were married under the age of 18. Many Syrian refugees state this has been part of their social customs for decades, and the crisis is not causing the early marriages. From whatever perspective, it is clear that early marriage and the legal and health issues which often arise from this practice, have been highlighted because of this crisis.
Q. Tell us about your most memorable experience or a person you met?
I recently travelled to a place called Ajloun, about 90 minutes west of Amman. We were there to deliver cash assistance in the form of an ATM card to an elderly man. Usually, people come to Amman to receive the card. However, this elderly man could not travel easily. He had no family in the community and relied on friends and neighbors to help him in daily living tasks. When we delivered the card, he was nearly in tears. He said that now he could finally be independent again, and have money of his own, to take care of his own needs.