Last week we had the chance to speak with Jordan Hattar. Below is the transcript of our interview.
Bio excerpted and adapted from Help4Refugees.org: Jordan Hattar is a 25 year-old humanitarian and director of Help4Refugees.org. Instead of starting college the semester after high school, Jordan journeyed to South Sudan to work alongside Sudanese Lost Boy Deng Jongkuch to build a medical clinic in Deng’s home village of Malek. In January of 2011, Jordan began college, majoring in International Studies at California State University Long Beach. He spent the fall of 2012 reporting and delivering humanitarian aid to the Syrian refugee camp of Zaatri, and teamed up with Olivia Wong to fundraise and deliver caravans (prefabricated housing units) to the Zaatari Refugee Camp in 2013 and 2014. Jordan went on to receive his Master's in International Relations and Politics from the University of Cambridge in 2016, and interned with First Lady Michelle Obama's Reach Higher Initiative in the White House. Currently, Jordan has decided to follow in the footsteps of his mentor, Carl Wilkens, the only American who chose to remain in Rwanda during the genocide, and speak full-time in schools and universities around the world.
Out of all the causes you could have taken up, what drew you to become an advocate for refugees?
I remember when I interviewed Andrew Harper, the UNHCR spokesperson in Jordan, during my first trip to work with refugees in Jordan, and he said that being a refugee and living in tents are things you would not wish on your worst enemies.
It’s humbling to realize that it could have been us in their shoes, or them in ours. Ever since I learned about the genocide in Darfur when I was in the ninth grade, I was inspired to learn more and more about what was going on in the world, and I started to realize that it’s really about the luck of where we are born. Our predicament in life is not entirely based on merit, or achievement, or good deeds, but rather also on chance or luck; we don’t get to decide where we are born.
Can you tell us a bit about Help4Refugees?
Help4Refugees grew as an extension of the work I was doing as a way to let other people know about the issues and get involved. The mission is to respond to the refugee crisis, to break down the misconceptions about refugees, and to put a human touch to the Syrian conflict. By learning people’s stories, we increase our empathy and can see how we are all so similar. Stories empower service, and service empowers stories.
What are some of the biggest misconceptions people have about refugees?
There are three that come to mind:
- Refugees take people’s jobs
- Refugees want to inflict harm on the West and the societies they go to
- Refugees are a burden on society
One story that sticks out is when I was asking a group of Syrian refugees what they needed most, and the young men from Douma, a suburb of Damascus that has been obliterated, said they needed razors. When I asked why, they said that they wanted to shave their beards so they wouldn’t be mistaken for ISIS members and perpetuate the misconception that refugees support ISIS.
In your opinion, are governments doing enough to address the refugee crisis? What has been done well? What needs to be improved?
Let me respond to this with a story. There’s this doctor who I Skype into my talks a lot, and last month one of my students asked him, “Why do you risk your life? You have your wife and three kids, with the fourth on the way, in Turkey, and you work as a physician in Northern Syria but you have the opportunity and citizenship papers to leave. So why do you go back and forth and risk your life?”
The doctor responded by saying, “If I didn’t help, I don’t know how I would be able to live with myself, or what to tell my son later on when he asks what I was doing during the atrocities in Syria and I couldn’t say anything. I realize that my life might be taken, but I hope that people will be able to tell my kids that I did something that I believed in and that I did the best I could.”
His answer stunned the room, myself included. I wish that governments could meet this doctor and hear what he is willing to do, that we would all go to that extent to protect lives.
What are a couple resources you would recommend to people if they want to find out more about the current refugee crises?
I think the best way to learn about the current refugee crisis is to learn people’s stories. Here are a few that I would like to share:
- The story of one Syrian refugee family told through a PBS Frontline Documentary called “Children of Syria”: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/film/children-of-syria/
- The story of Saria Samakie, a 21-year-old Syrian student whom I personally know and admire: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xfOdwPMtyOs&t=490s. To learn more about Saria’s work with his organization, Fikra 3al Mashi, you can visit: https://www.fikra3almashi.org
- The story of Rania, a 20-year-old Syrian woman: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EDHwt-ooAi4&t=36s
- The trailer for a documentary called “After Spring” shows what life is like in the Zaatari Refugee Camp, and is produced by the former host of the Daily Show, Jon Stewart: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oQQmBU_rBpM
Also, a video that comes to mind is the recent 60 Minutes feature on the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS), a nonpolitical, nonprofit relief organization that provides medical services in Syria. The former president of SAMS went to school with the Syrian president back in London. Fast forward a few years and now the Syrian president is bombing his former classmate’s hospitals. In a recent interview, they asked the president of SAMS if he had a message for the Syrian president, and he said, “Remember the oath we took.” He was referring to their oath to protect lives, not harm them.
To me, I think the only way to really get people to really understand the atrocities and genocides happening in the past and right now is to share stories, which can empower others to share their own. Activism is contagious - I really believe this.
For more information on Help4Refugees, you can check out the website at http://help4refugees.org, or email Jordan at email@example.com if you have any questions or are interested in having him as a speaker. You can also follow Help4Refugees on their Facebook page, and if you are interested in donating to Help4Refugees, you can do so here.