Led by her passion for Middle Eastern culture and determination to foster relationships through language, Elizabeth Woods has truly made an impact on the lives of the refugees she serves in Jordan. As JRS Jordan’s Director of Urban Refugee Support, she and her team manage a program that offers home visits to provide psychosocial support, referral services, and cash assistance to urban refugees of any nationality, as well as Jordanian nationals in need in Amman.
“It’s about supporting the needs of the increasing number of urban refugees. There are about 1.4 million Syrian refugees now in Jordan fleeing civil war, as well as 400,000 Iraqis, 30,000 Yemenis, 3,800 Sudanese, and 800 Somali refugees in need. They face a multitude of issues, and we work to help them through the process.”
Elizabeth found her passion for humanitarian aid when she was offered a six-month internship with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which works with Palestinian refugees. There, she worked at the headquarters serving Syrian-Palestinian refugees, providing Education in Emergencies services to traumatized kids. “It was eye opening to the responses that are happening to the crises, what they mean, and how the responses should be structured,” says Woods. Soon after that project, Elizabeth realized that she wanted to work closer to the people she serves and be more hands-on, which led her to JRS.
Since being at JRS, Elizabeth has been able to learn and work in the different aspects of a smaller NGO, all while meeting people and connecting with them by speaking fluent Arabic. Her team has grown from two people to a strong, diverse team of nine. Each home visit team is comprised of men and women from different cultural backgrounds, which allows for bonds of trust to be built.
They tackle the daily home visits through a humanized approach that allows them to accompany the urban refugees on a more personalized level. “With the home visits, it’s really going into people homes and sitting with them, listening to them, hearing what their needs are and what they’ve been through. Whatever they want to talk about– we don’t push people or ask intrusive questions– we listen to their needs and whatever they have to say.” Elizabeth added that they do not visit homes once and never return, but rather, conduct continuous follow-ups to assure families are cared for.
There are several daily struggles urban refugees face that JRS works to combat. Elizabeth explains that “78% of urban refugees live in cities and have to fend for themselves, unlike those in camps who have more assistance with everyday needs. There is a lack of appropriate housing, medical care, and education. There is a high unemployment rate and little access to work permits, along with a range of social problems that refugees normally face in most foreign countries—most frequently, exclusion by the locals and exploitation.” She goes on to detail the key issue of racism that the urban refugees in Amman also face.
The physical appearance of those from Sudan, South Sudan, and Somalia is apparent to others around them, which often results in racist actions from the host community. “They endure several issues stemming from how aid in Amman is based on nationality and not need, so the criteria of helping people is discriminatory and against humanitarian principals,” Elizabeth says. To combat racism and other issues, the JRS Jordan team provides in-class English and psychosocial case management education classes that are accredited by U.S. Jesuit universities, as well as online programs, education stipends to some, scholarship application support, community events, and psychosocial support.
They also work to build a strong bond amongst the team to better assist the urban refugees in Amman. Elizabeth works with them on mindfulness sessions, self-care, obtaining an understanding of how to best foster relationships, psychosocial case management, and learning to work in an office environment. Elizabeth says she’s fully committed to her team, work in Jordan, and improving the lives of urban refugees. “I want to be the link between cultures to improve the lives of refugees now and as they work to improve their futures.”