First Person

Searching for home. Finding perspective.

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This small camp is one of 45 tented settlements where Oxfam works in the Jordan Valley, providing water filters and hygiene kit to refugee families. Photo: F. Muath/Oxfam

Everyone wants a safe, peaceful place to live. Why is finding that so easy for some of us and so hard for others?

Until I started house-hunting, I didn’t realize how stressful the process could be. Take the house that I recently came close to purchasing. For days, my wife and I imagined ourselves in this new, larger home; we planned how our furniture would fit in the various spaces, how great it’d be to cook in a new kitchen, how our future children would play outside. Alas, after excruciating consideration, we decided this house wasn’t quite the right place for us. It was an emotional roller-coaster, and by the end of it I began to feel hopeless. Would we ever find the right home?

But the next morning, as I continued to mull things over, a thought struck sharp and deep: Right now, as I obsess over upgrading my living situation, there are millions of refugees who have fled Syria and are without any homes at all. As I imagine the future house my family will inhabit, there are families who have spent up to three years  struggling to get by in tented camps or makeshift shelters, hanging on to whatever hope they can muster of returning to their country.

Recently I read the story of Ammar, who, with his wife and three young children, is among the refugees Oxfam is working to support in Jordan and Lebanon. They fled the Aleppo region of Syria over a year ago and have spent the past three months in a cold and damp three-room stone dwelling. Ammar suffers from depression and is psychologically scarred by his experiences of the conflict in Syria, to the point where he has suffered multiple panic attacks and heart attacks.

Before the conflict, “I was a citizen like everybody else,” Ammar said. “I had a committed life, living with my family in safety and peace.”

Ammar, 37, his wife Um Saeed, and their three children have been living in Jordan since January 2013. For the past three months they have been living in a three-room home in Baqa’a camp, just outside Amman. Photo: F. Muath/Oxfam

Remember how annoying it was as a kid when you didn’t want to eat your dinner, for whatever reason, and your parents said, “There are people starving in some parts of the world who would love to eat this food”? We knew there was truth in what they were saying, but the words ended up making us feel pretty stupid. It isn’t that we’re trying to be self-centered; it’s just that in the moment we’re looking at things through a limited window. It can be difficult to look out at the wider world. But perspective isn’t served best with shame.

When reflecting on the state of Syrian refugee families like Ammar’s, I do my best to avoid dousing myself in shame. Instead I pause and acknowledge that it’s kind of ridiculous for me to worry so much about finding a new home when Ammar and so many other people have real reason to worry about the future.

“Three years [into the Syrian conflict] and we’re always asked the same questions and we have the same answers. Let’s eventually end this; we are all humans, we are all brothers and humanity,” Ammar said. “I feel that no one is feeling what is happening to us…all I want is to be able to eat, drink and earn a living. I don’t want to be rich, I just want to be able to live. I don’t want a luxurious life. I just want the daily basics.”

No matter where we live, we all want the best for ourselves and for our families. But putting those needs in perspective with the basic needs that so many struggle with today is important. That shift in perspective, for me, doesn’t end with acknowledging just how fortunate I am. It’s important to me that I act from that perspective, lest I take it for granted.

We can help meet the basic needs of families like Ammar’s and be voices for peace in Syria. See how. Facebook Twitter Instagram YouTube Google+