Sunday, December 22, 2013

Two Ends of the Spectrum

As many of you may have noticed, I haven’t written a project update in quite some time. And I assure you it’s not because I have been slacking off and partying all the time. The truth is, project updates are hard. It’s much easier to write about my touristy adventures, show nice pictures, and tell funny stories about daily life in Amman. 

The picture of disability provisions in Jordan is complex. There are strong religious, political, and social influences at work. I have so many different thoughts going through my head at any given moment, trying to make sense of everything I hear from people and observe firsthand. There’s also the problem solver at work within me, trying to unravel the intricate web of influences and figure out how to improve the situation for people with disabilities in Jordan. And again, as I mentioned in my last project post, I want to portray everything honestly without making harsh or negative generalizations about the situation here. See? Project updates are hard!

But I’m not one to be too intimidated by challenges. I mean, I am alone in Jordan for goodness sake, you’d think I would be able to write a silly blog post. So I’ll do my best! What I want to illustrate in this post is the broad range of provisions available for people with disabilities. There are definitely two extremes, two ends of the spectrum.

First extreme. I’ve spent some time with an organization called Al Masar located in West Amman. Something I’ve learned is that West Amman is by far the more affluent part of the city. I live in West Amman, nearly all expats do. However, East Amman is quite different. I’ve heard it said that you have to have a reason to go to East Amman. There aren’t any destinations per say. This being said, provisions for people with disabilities are typically better in West Amman. Then among all the organizations in West Amman, I could say that Al Masar is probably the best. This gives you an idea of just how extreme we’re talking here.   

Al Masar is a private center that was started as a place where all services for kids with disabilities could be offered under the same roof. They have speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, early intervention for kids under the age of 5, and a school for kids over the age of 5. Very comprehensive! They offer amazing services, but unfortunately this high quality is quite expensive. Families pay top dollar for their kids to be able to attend the school at Al Masar or receive weekly therapy sessions. 

Over the past few weeks, before the snow hit and we were all housebound, I helped out in Al Masar’s class for kids around age 14 to 21. This class is very similar to the class Bailey attends! They focus mostly on life skills. The teachers do some functional academics like money and time. In addition, they do vocational training which tend to be hands on, practical activities. For example, one day I was there, they were making an olive mixture and putting it into jars to sell at a bazar. Once a week, the kids have a swimming lesson at Al Masar’s very own pool and another day some of the kids are bused to a small farm for a short session of horseback riding offered through the Princess Alia Foundation.

The activity I found most interesting though was their weekly trip to a local grocery store where the kids help sort produce. This was one of the first efforts I learned about that aims to get people with disabilities involved in a real job within the community. This grocery store has agreed to partner with Al Masar in this effort and Al Masar is hoping to get more employers involved in the future. It is great to get these kids out of the classroom and into the community doing work that is appropriate for their ability. The work is challenging and stimulating for these kids. At the moment, I wouldn’t say that the situation is perfect, but it truly is a step in the right direction. 

Ok, second extreme. Recently I met an amazing woman named Veronika. She is from Germany, but has lived in Amman for a number of years and has essentially dedicated her life to helping Jordan’s disabled community in her own way. I’ve been able to accompany Veronika on her weekly trip to a women’s center in a small village about an hour from Amman. Women come with their daughters who have special needs and Veronika makes sure they have a fun time. Veronika brings along conventional things like memory cards, dice games, and games that help the kids practice colors. But she also has a whole collection of everyday household items that keep the kids entertained and stimulated. We throw handmade knitted balls or toilet paper roll “darts” into a tire...balance round cardboard disks on paper towel music with empty cans of different sizes...string colored bottle caps onto wire in different patterns. The possibilities are endless and everyone has a GREAT time! These activities are things the families can do at home too, no big expensive equipment required. This is really the only formal, semi-educational interaction these young women receive during the week. It is so good for them to interact with their peers and participate in stimulating, fun activities. Veronika has high expectations for these girls. She knows they are capable of learning, growing in their confidence, and improving their behavior; a mindset not commonly shared among many people in Jordan. The kids (and their mothers) look forward to seeing her every week. And the weekly trip has become a highlight of my time in Jordan as well!

So there you have it, two ends of the spectrum. I’m not proposing that one extreme is “better” than another. But I hope this illustrates the definite difference in approach and funding and awareness and expectations in the country. 

One more thing before I close. 

An interesting interaction. Remember the organization, Nour Al Barakah, that offers different activities for adults with disabilities in the evenings? One day a week, local high school kids come to volunteer as well, working in the garden and interacting with the young adults. Well, after one session, I was talking with a woman who helps care for Hiba, a young woman with special needs. She told me, “It is so good for Hiba to interact with the ordinary kids!” To which I responded, “And it is so good for the ordinary kids to interact with Hiba!!” She gave me a quizzical look and said, “Why? Why is it good for ordinary people to interact with people like Hiba?” 

Well, I’ve been preparing my whole life to answer a question like this!! I excitedly explained to her that people with special needs teach us patience. We have to learn to move at a different pace and be flexible, important skills to have. People with special needs help us improve our communication skills as we have to figure out how to use our words in a way that people of different abilities and comprehension will understand. People with special needs also give us a different perspective on life. I know that it was always helpful, when I was waist deep in Harvey Mudd chaos, to call home and hear Bailey’s joy that her favorite contestant on American Idol made it to the next round. Bailey and others like her bring a certain joy and simplicity that us “ordinary” folks tend to miss. 

Fortunately, the woman I was speaking with was very receptive. She seemed to appreciate and understand my response. I was overjoyed that I had the opportunity to share this and hopefully change her mindset on special needs issues for the better. Her attitude is not all that uncommon in Jordan so I’m certainly trying to do my part to raise awareness while I'm here! 

Monday, December 16, 2013

Some Serious Snow

The snow storm that hit the Middle East this past week was historic. It was the biggest snowfall the region has gotten in decades! I figure the experience deserves proper documentation. I watched the snow accumulate from my little apartment as I drank tea and layered on the socks. Check out how the landscape changed over the course of three days!

Before things got too bad I went to the tiny store around the corner from my apartment building to stock up on food. I made it about two steps outside my building and I was on the ground. I laughed out loud at myself, wondering if anyone had the pleasure of seeing me flail and land on all fours on the slick surface. It had to have been hilarious. 

The morning of Day Three of snow, I woke up early to thunder, lightening, wind, and the morning prayer call. It was wild! Later in the day, after the wind finally died down, I ventured outside to check out the neighborhood in its blanket of beautiful, white snow. I put on nearly all the clothes I own to go outside, I'm still in the process of acquiring warm clothing... Gotta love layers! Here's how things looked at peak snow accumulation. 

Stuck in the snow.  

Tiny store around the corner from my apartment.
So glad I was able to replenish my pita bread supply.

The sun finally came out and the temperature rose on Sunday. And so the great thaw begins.

Palm trees! And snow!
Before I close, while I have the luxury of heat, hot tea, and a solid roof over my head... there a thousands of refugees living in tents in Jordan and other parts of the Middle East. These people are often in my thoughts and I pray that they are cared for with food, warm clothing, blankets, and shelter. The snow has been quite an adventure, but perhaps not so much of a welcome adventure for some. 

Beautiful sunset as the snow slowly melts.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

I'm Just So Thankful!

Praise the LORD. How good it is to sing praises to our God, how pleasant and fitting to praise Him!
Psalm 147:1 

I am currently bundled in my little apartment, snowed in for the second day in a row. The snow is pretty pathetic by many standards, but for a city that doesn't handle heavy rainfall very easily, you can imagine things kinda just shut down when it snows. Everyone tends to hunker down and wait it out, trying to stay warm in decidedly drafty, poorly insulated buildings. And this is perfectly ok with me! I've been getting things done, staying cozy, and reflecting on thankfulness.

As I think about how incredibly thankful I am right now, I remember back to this time last year. I was in the throes of my penultimate semester at Harvey Mudd, overwhelmed with grad school applications, my Watson application, clinic... The future was completely unknown, I was stressed, and honestly I wasn't very thankful. Even the small things, like a delicious vanilla latte from Starbucks, did little to ignite a thankful fire within me. I remember then being frustrated with myself because I wasn't thankful! It's a vicious cycle.

Well, how things can change in just one year! While a year ago, I wasn't even sure how I would make it to graduation, this year I'm spending the holidays in Jordan! And I couldn't be happier. I just want to share a few of the many things I am thankful for:

- I'm thankful I'm here in Jordan. I love this country!
- I'm thankful that the transition to Jordan was so smooth and that I found a roommate and an apartment so quickly.
- I'm thankful for how easy it was to get my visa extended so that I can stay for three months.
- I'm thankful for the amazing project connections I have made here. I have met so many interesting and helpful people!
- I'm thankful I found a church family here! And I got to have Thanksgiving with them! It is such a encouragement and a privilege to worship and fellowship with other Christians all over the world.
- I'm thankful that with this church, I get to pray for the people of this region.
- I'm thankful for my friends and family back home who give me so much support and encouragement. Thanks for listening to all my stories!
- I'm thankful for the amazing new friends I am making on this journey.
- I'm thankful for oatmeal pancakes and hot tea.

And finally, I'm thankful for what I'm learning about being flexible and placing my trust fully in the Lord. I came across these verses a few weeks ago and they have since become my daily prayer.

Let the morning bring me word of Your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in You. Show me the way I should go, for to You I entrust my life. Rescue me from my enemies, LORD, for I hide myself in You. Teach me to do Your will, for You are my God; may Your good Spirit lead me on level ground.
Psalm 143: 8-10 

I praise God for my thankful heart and for how He provides for me every single day!