More than 1.6 million Syrian refugees have poured into Jordan during the years since the eruption of the Syrian civil war in 2011. The Syrian refugees are understandably having a difficult time living in a strange land. Tzu Chi volunteers in Jordan have done what they can to help these guests. At the same time, they have continued to care for the lives of some Jordanians living deep in the desert whose livelihoods are quite primitive and every bit as hard as those of the Syrian refugees. They are the Bedouins, an Arab semi-nomadic ethnic group.
For 13 years now, the volunteers have regularly visited and provided everyday necessities for four Bedouin tribes. Each such trip covers 200 miles one way and can be an adventure rife with challenges—due to desert weather conditions, religious differences, budgetary constraints, and a shortage of volunteers. Volunteers are undaunted in spite of these difficulties because they know that deep in the desert, their Bedouin friends are counting on them to show up.
It was mid-May. Volunteers left Amman one morning and drove southward. They wanted to visit their Bedouin friends before the start of Ramadan in June. Traveling on dusty desert roads for hour after hour, the volunteers saw an increasingly monotonous landscape—a ceaseless sandy and barren expanse, occasionally dotted with green spots of trees and homes of Bedouins. There were no power lines in sight.
The Bedouins, whose name means ”desert dwellers” in Arabic, are accustomed to the unforgiving climate of the desert. The dust, sun, and heat are all par for the course for them. However, those conditions are a different matter to the volunteers, all city dwellers unused to the harsh desert weather and liable to heatstrokes. To make a living, the Bedouins raise goats or camels, hunt, or live on income from tourism. But regardless of how they earn a living, most of them have large families to feed and live in poverty.
In two days, volunteers visited the four Bedouin tribes in Thugra, Abasiya, Wadi Fenan, and Wadi Rum that they have helped for 13 years. During this trip, they delivered to 240 families necessities including rice, sugar, cooking oil, chickpeas, black tea, dates, date butter, and sesame butter.
Local Bedouin women, adhering to their cultural tradition, wear niqabs, veils covering the head and face with a small opening for the eyes. Wadi Rum is a tourist attraction known for its scenery, and many Bedouins there work in the tourism industry.
While other adults are busy distributing or receiving supplies, volunteer Lily Jacob Armoush Ramin, a former teacher, gathers up children to share with them about Tzu Chi and its work to help the disadvantaged.
The foundation has provided scholarships over the years to worthy Bedouin youths to study out of town. Some of them are now working in Amman or Aqaba, but some have returned home to teach.
Waffa, a Syrian refugee in Jordan, hands out candy to Bedouin children in Thugra. This was the first time that she had volunteered for a distribution at Bedouin sites. Their austere living conditions have made her better appreciate what she has.
After the distribution at Abasiya, the volunteers went to the home of the tribe leader. Tribal men and volunteers sat on rugs, drank tea, and engaged in a nice chat. The volunteers have gotten to know more about the lives of their friends through occasions like this.
Volunteers visit the Bedouins about once every three months. During each visit, they make a point of chatting with the locals.