Over a hundred Iraqi and non-Iraqi children, Christian and Muslim, from disadvantaged backgrounds were brought together by HCI in Jordan for a gift distribution party on Christmas day. Similar to HCI’s activities during Eid El-Adha and the Holy month of Ramadan, this activity encouraged these children coming from very different environments to share an exceptional experience together; they were given an opportunity to interact with each other in a safe and fun space, challenging the stigmas and the complex dynamics that commonly exist between refugees and their hosts, building bridges of understanding and mutual respect among each other and simultaneously having their needs addressed.
Jordan hosts thousands of Iraqi refugees the majority of which are children and youth below the age of twenty four. A large number of them are known to be physically, psychologically, and/or economically vulnerable. In the poor neighborhoods of Amman deprivation and the limited availability of resources create tensions between low income Jordanians, poverty stricken Iraqi refugees and other refugees. This dynamic often leads to the stigmatization of these Iraqi refugees, complicates community ties and makes their struggle to survive even harder. Children are especially vulnerable to the negative mental health outcomes and general social disadvantage that may result from this.
HCI always takes into consideration the social fabric of any community and/or society when designing and implementing any initiative. Whether the project directly tackles the question of social cohesion or integrates it as an inseparable component of a project and HCI always makes it a point to include as many components of society as possible including but not limited to gender, religion, sect, and race. Pluralist societies are not accidents of history. They are a product of enlightened education and continuous investment by governments and all of civil society in recognizing and celebrating diversity.When it comes to working with children, HCI’s projects that have been themed around pluralism, gender equality and non-violence usually include activities that promote interaction and sharing of ideas and resources. Our seasonal projects for example expose children to others from different backgrounds, religious sects and nationalities encouraging them to interact and to learn more about each other; this encourages them to see those with different backgrounds as human beings like themselves, and not simply as “others.” In the poverty-stricken and overcrowded Shatila Refugee camp for example, our 2011 activities brought together children from different nationalities and religious sects to share a collective Iftar and participate in recreational activities; the children played games together, prepared the meal together and ate side by side. HCI believes that these kinds of activities stimulate children on various levels; from becoming more positively engaged with their surroundings to building bridges among the different factions of their society, from improving their psychosocial wellbeing to learning more about the world in general in a collective and safe environment away from the problems that plague their environment such as the lack of social and civil rights, limited access to social, educational and health services, and violence among others.
HCI invests in the role that increased contact among different factions of society can play to break down divisions, reduce the potential for misunderstanding and conflict, and increase social cohesion. Accordingly by implementing of seasonal projects such as the celebration of Ramadan, Eid Al Adha and Christmas, we are not only a celebrating the role that these traditions play- they serve to strengthen community ties and embody important ideals such as generosity and helping the needy- we are also taking the opportunity to sow the seeds of dialogue, promote understanding and facilitate social cohesion.
Without dialogue, a functional diverse and pluralistic society is non-achievable, and without respect for diversity, dialogue is useless. Celebrating diversity means not only discussion among communities, but also includes all positive and constructive inter-cultural relations with individuals and communities which are directed at mutual understanding and enrichment. Dialogue, therefore, means a witness given and received for mutual advancement on the road taken by everyone for the elimination of prejudice, intolerance and misunderstanding.