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Matt Lyle HUFFINGTON POST blog

How do you begin to put the pieces together in an unsolvable puzzle? Thats the
question my fellow students and I were left pondering during a recent visit to a
Syrian refugee camp in northern Jordan.

With international diplomacy failing on almost every level in the Syria crisis,
invariably the only people left without a voice or an identity are the refugees
fleeing the war in their own country.

So to have the opportunity to talk face to face with these men, women and children
was a unique and incredibly humbling experience for all of us. I study disaster
management at Coventry University, but no amount of insight into emergency
response and relief efforts can properly prepare anyone for the heartbreaking sight
of these families having to cope with their world turned upside down.

The camp that we visited was in the city of Mafraq a stones throw from the Syrian
border and is home to around 500 refugees. Its smaller than the neighbouring
Zaatari camp, but no less horrifying. Shortly after arriving we saw explosions just
miles from the site. The emotional impact this must leave on these people, who are
forced to sit and watch their country descend into chaos, is unimaginable.

What is quite easy to imagine, however, is the anger the refugees feel at the political
and diplomatic manoeuvring around the conflict which seems only to have drawn
out the nightmare in which they find themselves.

Their first reaction to our arrival was one of hostility. They thought we were
American, but surprisingly, perhaps they calmed noticeably and became more
welcoming when they discovered we were British. What touched us most was the
fact that they immediately offered us tea and refreshments, even though they had
barely anything themselves. It was a gesture none of us will forget.

We sat with families in the community tent a small marquee emblazoned with the
logo of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and listened to many of
their stories with a dawning sense of the true gravity of the situation. These were
people like me students, nurses, teachers, electricians forced to live in tents and
getting by on handouts of food and supplies. They have lost everything and had their
dignity stripped away from them.

Everyone we talked with spoke of their pain at losing their homes, the need for food
and blankets (the nights are bitterly cold) and above all their anger at Assad and his
regime. When they fled to Jordan they hoped and expected to be back within a
month or two. But many of these families are now in their second year in the camp,
and it was almost as if the desire to return has gone. Hope, too, has deserted them.

I dont think its possible to come into contact with such a heartbreaking situation
without wanting to do something about it. The barrier is usually the enormity of the
challenge: what can one individual or small group of students possibly do to help?
That evening we were warm and well-fed in our hotel, all of us feeling that this was
somehow an inappropriate paradox after that days experiences. We resolved to
return to the camp.

In just 48 hours a massive Facebook fundraising effort wed initiated generated
4,500, which we used over the next few days to arrange a logistics and distribution
mission to bring basic food aid and survival supplies to the families we had met at
the camp. It was a drop in the ocean in terms of the number of people we helped,
but we had already decided that this would be the beginning of an ongoing relief
effort we would continue to make long after we left Jordan.

So what now? Back in Coventry we are starting to put together the first pieces in the
seemingly unsolvable puzzle of how to make a positive, sustained difference to the
lives of the men, women and children in the Mafraq refugee camp.

Food aid is difficult to work logistically, so in setting up a charity our focus will be the
provision of education through a sustainable framework. Thousands of children
fleeing Syria with their families are being deprived of the opportunity of an
education, so if we with the support of Coventry University can help provide
learning opportunities to adults then the hope is that they can teach these kids and
give them a better future.

Our visit to Mafraq would not have been possible without funding from a Coventry
alumnus, Dr Majid AlSadi. Thanks to his generosity these visits to Jordan will
continue to run over the next few years, and the students who follow our group will
be able to continue as ambassadors for our soon-to-be-established charity. With a
host of willing individuals in Jordan ready to support our cause, our next move will
be to initiate a series of steps that will hopefully change the lives of the Syrian
refugees on a longer term and with greater sustainability.