Beirut, 20 February 2013 – For many volunteers in Syria who spend their time working with the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), the day is only over once they have spoken to their family, and reassured them of their safety.
One way of getting around this was, explained, Huda*, JRS volunteer in Aleppo, to invite her father to work with her at the warehouse where distribution of emergency supplies, winter shoes and clothes takes place. This has sparked a trend amongst the other volunteers, who have also begun inviting their parents to take part.
"It's better than having them wait anxiously all day, and then nagging when you get home. This way, they are also involved and have a better understanding of what our work is. They also feel better about themselves because they are doing something".
With a recent increase of team members in Aleppo, the age range of the volunteers has widened from 17 to 70 years of age. In January alone, more than 7,000 individuals received assistance in the form of emergency relief from JRS Aleppo, most of which was delivered by volunteers.
"It's actually quite an advantage having adults on the team, because their life-experience comes in handy. The younger volunteers are well-meaning but are sometimes gullible and naïve."
Other projects in Damascus and Homs also depend heavily on volunteers.
Fouad Nakhla, SJ, the project director in Damascus speaks warmly about the volunteers who assist at the centres in Dwelaa and Bab Touma.
"Without the volunteers, our project would barely exist. We are nothing without them".
Currently there are up to 200 regular volunteers in Syria who help on a daily basis. At times, this number reaches 400 when activities take place in which more volunteers are needed.
Volunteers around the region. Similarly in Jordan, volunteers come from refugee communities – namely Iraqis, Sudanese, Somalis and Syrians – as well as other expatriate volunteers.
One of the most successful projects in Amman, Jordan was the initial evening classes for Sudanese and Somali refugees, spearheaded by an American volunteer.
In Lebanon and Turkey, a vibrant expatriate community is regularly called on for assistance. At St Joseph's Church in Beirut, many volunteers from local universities come to assist with packing food baskets and distributing them to refugee families within the city.
Agata Kawicka, who worked with JRS Turkey for four years explained.
"We can write about refugees, laws and systems, but in Ankara what is most amazing is the involvement and participation of the expat community in the project. The project would almost not exist without these 20 volunteers who come on a regular basis to help, or the hundreds of people who constantly donate items".
Last month alone JRS Turkey received 200 brand new blankets and 80 jackets in donation. A request for two wheelchairs was answered within a couple of hours.
"I can also see more and more Turkish people becoming involved. They are discreet, but they do a considerable amount for the refugees".
Currently in Ankara volunteers are preparing a special English-language programme to help refugees who will soon be resettled to English-speaking countries.
Nawras Sammour SJ, JRS Middle East and North Africa Director, praised volunteers for their support.
"Our volunteers in the region are completely devoted to the people we serve. In Syria, sometimes they risk their lives, coming to and from our centres even when fighting is nearby".
How can you help? If you would like to support the work of JRS in Syria and the surrounding countries, you can do so here.
Zerene Haddad, JRS Middle East and North Africa Communications Officer