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When Jordan Red Crescent CBHFA volunteers, Fatima and Alaa, heard about Najla from concerned neighbours, they knew they needed to take urgent action. Najla, her husband, and her three young girls were living in the Jordanian city of Salt, and all the family members were sick.
Najla originally came from Aleppo, Syria. She and her husband had a happy life, they owned a successful restaurant and had four healthy children. They were very proud of their oldest child, their son, for his success in school and gentle nature. However, life changed very quickly for the family. When the Syrian crisis broke out they fled the armed conflict that spread through their city, leaving behind their belongings and livelihoods, and later arrived in Jordan.
On their arrival, the family found a small, 2 room basement flat to live in. They were all together, and safe for the moment, but they had concerns about continuing their son’s education and his future prospects in Jordan. After many sleepless nights, they made the decision to send their son to Germany, trusting that Europe would hold better opportunities for his schooling, healthcare and safety. Soon after the difficult decision was made, their 14 year old son started his journey to Europe with his uncle. However, communication was difficult. They were lucky to have contact with him once per month, and sometimes it was three months between phone calls with him. Not knowing about the welfare of their young child took a great toll on the psychological health of all the family.
The couple also suffered from the stress of missing family members, reliving traumatic memories from the conflict in Aleppo, and trying to survive in Jordan with no income. Najla’s husband’s psychological health had deteriorated to a level where he could not work, and the family found itself in extreme financial and emotional distress.
When the JNRCS volunteers first made a house visit to Najla, they were overwhelmed. The small, two room basement apartment had just two tiny windows, and Najla and her husband were smoking heavily. The air was difficult to breathe, and everyone in the family was coughing severely. Najla was already struggling with obesity, and the smoke was causing her a lot of chest pain. She couldn’t do any physical activity, and couldn’t afford medication for any of her family members.
During their first visit in August 2016, Fatima and Alaa tried to discuss the impacts Najla’s smoking was having, not just on herself, but also on her children. This first visit was met with complete denial; Najla was not interested in receiving help or advice. She felt her life was already so bad, how could it get any worse?
The two young volunteers considered their options. The CBHFA staff and trainers had prepared them for these kinds of situations with detailed training on Healthy Lifestyles and providing Psychosocial Support. If these approaches didn’t work, they knew that there were referral systems to other organisations.
Fatima and Alaa did not give up. They continued to visit Najla every two weeks to discuss health issues with her. On the third visit, they started to talk about cancer, the treatments for cancer, and the family’s inability to pay for these treatments. They pointed out other people in the neighbourhood suffering from smoking-related illnesses. If Najla’s family couldn’t pay for medications in the future, what would happen to her children?
When the two volunteers visited again in November 2016, they had a great surprise. Najla had given up smoking. The air was clearer in the apartment, and Najla was feeling better and healthier. She felt more able to do physical activity, and was taking an interest in improving her diet and wellbeing. She was asked the volunteers for advice on how to encourage her husband to stop smoking, he was already reducing his daily number of cigarettes.
Najla cried when the volunteers arrived for that visit. She explained that she hadn’t realised the impact her smoking had been having on her children. She was so grateful that they continued to educate her, that they didn’t give up on her, and that they supported her during this big lifestyle change. She said she wasn’t aware that the Jordan Red Crescent helped people with health awareness, as well as aid distributions.
In December 2016, Fatima and Alaa received a phone call from Najla. Her family had been approved to move to Germany and they were finally going to be reunited with their beloved son. The family are now in Europe, and Najla still has regular phone calls with the two volunteers who helped her so much.
For Fatima and Alaa, this experience was very special. Through their volunteering spirit, and the training received from the Jordan Red Crescent, they were able to make a very positive impact on the lives of people who have experienced so much hardship. The story of Najla keeps these two young women energised and enthusiastic. They continue to volunteer, trying to help more people in their community become as healthy and happy as Najla.