Editor's note: Please note that this article was written in 2012.
With tens of thousands of ill-prepared refugees fleeing war-torn Syria in search of peace and protection across the border in Jordan, LDS Charities has answered the Jordanian government’s call for help with more than $1 million in humanitarian aid already provided or in the works during the next few months.
A press release issued late Thursday indicated that LDS Charities, a non-governmental organization sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “has made a substantial commitment to support efforts by the Jordanian government and other charitable partners to provide relief to the thousands of Syrians displaced from their homeland.”
The humanitarian contribution to date has been $590,000 in supplies, with another $588,000 set to be spent during the coming months.
“LDS Charities has been a valued and trusted partner in assisting us to meet the needs of those coming in to Jordan seeking relief,” said Ayman R. Al-Mufleh, secretary general of the Jordanian Hashemite Charity Organization. “This is a strong and important partnership and we are grateful for it.”
Elder Bruce D. Porter of the LDS Church’s First Quorum of the Seventy was recently in Amman, meeting with several Jordanian government officials. “They were all moved by the commitment that LDS Charities has made to assist the Syrian refugees and graciously expressed their appreciation for the church’s contribution to this humanitarian cause,” Elder Porter said. “We are, of course, very happy to be part of these important relief efforts.”
Sharon Eubank, director of LDS Charities, said the organization has been scrambling to provide all of the hygiene kits, formula, diapers and feminine hygiene products it could find in the area.
“Our focus has been on the particular needs of women and children,” Eubank said, citing numbers from a recent New York Times story indicating that half of the refuges are under 12 years of age, and women in the refugee camps outnumber the men two to one.
“As the crisis unfolded in Syria it became more difficult for people to stay there,” Eubank said. “More and more people started coming across the border into Jordan. At first they were absorbed into the cities and towns, but soon the cities couldn’t absorb any more. The refugees were straining the country’s infrastructure."
In May, the Jordanian government started setting up the refugee camps, and soon they were bursting at the seams.
“In June there were 400 infants in the camps under four months old,” she said. “They were desperate for diapers and formula.”
The call went out for help, and LDS Charities answered.
“We’ve been working in the Middle East for 10 years,” Eubank said, “so we already had volunteer couples on the ground there who had established relationships and infrastructure through their work on our wheelchair project, our neonatal resuscitation project and the other humanitarian efforts we are making in the area.”
Working in coordination with the Jordanian government, full-time LDS humanitarian missionaries Jim and Karyn Anderson and Bret and Ruth Ann Youngberg immediately started buying supplies and assembling hygiene kits to meet a need that was growing every day. Because there are so few Latter-day Saints in the area — there are fewer than 200 Mormons in Jordan, and the church does not proselyte there as it is not officially recognized by the government — the humanitarian missionaries worked closely with other local religious groups, including the Greek Orthodox Church and the Latin Catholic Church, as well as students from the University of Jordan to put the kits together.
“We invited all of our friends to come to our office, and we spent a lot of time together putting hygiene and food kits together,” Eubank said.
In August the government started setting up larger, more permanent camps, with tents, sanitation equipment and running water.
“The government is responding to the long-term concerns,” Eubank said. “We were just there to respond to the crisis. Our role is to fill in the gaps, and we were able to do that.”
For example, at one point during the summer the desert location of the Zaatari refugee camp was becoming a dust bowl. LDS Charities arranged for base course to be placed in the area to reduce the dust. Additional base course is being placed in anticipation of the wet, muddy winter months to come.
The government is partnering with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees in responding to the current refugee crisis, but Eubank noted that “their resources right now are incredibly stretched with five different crises around the world that they are managing.” So LDS Charities is shifting its focus to preparing for the harsh realities of the Jordanian winter.
“Many of these people cross the border with just what they are wearing,” Eubank said. “We’ve sent boots, blankets and coats for those who are in need of winter clothing. We’re still coordinating with the government, trying to anticipate future needs.”
LDS Charities will also be coordinating with Islamic Relief to contribute a portion of the relief items to needy Jordanian families, particularly those regions that have accommodated a high Syrian influx.
For LDS Charities, Eubank said, “there is no expectation or even hope that there will be some reciprocal benefit for the church” from the humanitarian efforts.
“We don’t care about your religion or your ethnicity or anything else,” she said. “If you need help, we are trying to respond.”