Nigel Ellway and Lou McGrath follow outreach workers from the Sir Bobby Charlton Centre on their rounds in Amman

Written by Nigel Ellway

This week while The Sir Bobby Charlton Foundation’s CEO, Lou McGrath is in Cambodia creating a new Sir Bobby Charlton Centre the International Development Committee of the House of Commons was taking evidence on the plight of Syrian refugees – including from Henry Smith MP who came out to Jordan as an official delegate to see the work of the Sir Bobby Charlton Centre in Jordan.

As I sat listening to the MPs discussing the issues my thoughts went back to the day Lou and I spent with the Centre’s outreach team in Amman:

We had visited four families on that day – each with different needs, but each with a shared experience of having been uprooted by the conflict that none of them wanted.

Our companions on the visit included Prof Nieveen Abu-Zaid, Mr Mahmoud N. Eda’is, two physiotherapists Mr Ibrahim Ramadan and Ms Anwaar Obeidat and a young man in a wheelchair called Obada Alasmi.

Between the visits I talked to Obada about his background and his role at the centre. As a student in Damascus Obada had been in the wrong place at the wrong time, he found himself as a patient of Prof Nieveen. Coming to terms with his physical and psychological injuries he realised that he could use his experience to help others.

Obada now lead the peer support programme at the Centre in which victims of conflict provided moral support and encouragement to each other.

At the first visit we sat in a spotlessly clear, very compact apartment in a nondescript block overlooking a central square and children’s playground. By the window lay blast victim Ayham Alsabhat a Syrian man who like so many had been injured while going about his day to day life.

The physiotherapist Ibrahim Ramadan looked as if he was engaged in a wrestling match! Mr Alsabhat was not a small man and Ibrahim was heavily mobilising his damaged legs.

While Lou chatted to Ayham about his life and injuries I looked around the tiny living room, most of the space was taken up by the bed on which he lay the next largest item was a sewing machine – I like machinery so was intrigued to see that the pedal mechanism had been modified: there was now a lever angling down from under the appliance.

“It’s so he can work the machine with his knee.” Obada, had seen my interest in the machine, “He did the modifications himself. He used to be a farmer, his wife was a seamstress so with her help he taught himself to sew.”

Ayham had been supported by the peer network. The group discuss ways in which members could find suitable work which led Ayham to train himself to operate the sewing machine and gain work with his wife sewing up cloth bags on a piece-meal basis. He was proud to be earning money although certainly not enough to live on. The couple still needed financial support from UNHCR.

After about half an hour Obada suggested we move on to meet some other families

Lou and I thanked Ayham for allowing us into his home and telling his story, we followed the out-reach team down and back onto the street – the team visit about six to eight families a day, and must walk about three or four miles a day as a result.

Our next visit was to a family with a severely disabled child being treated by the female physiotherapist Anwaar. Prof Neiveen explained that there were often women who needed psychological support and many injured and disabled children who required a female support worker.

Conflict severely disrupts ordinary human life. Most often infrastructure such as medical and healthcare services are destroyed, food supplies are disrupted and sanitation breaks down.

This can lead to ordinary people being thrown into chaos and poverty.

Malnutrition, stress, lack of medication and the absence of stable family support contribute to vulnerability to disease and birth defect.

The young boy being treated was one such victim of this. Born with cerebral palsy he was just as much a victim of the conflict as any of the blast injured people we met.

My feelings at this time were seriously mixed – At home in the UK I find myself constantly upset by people’s misunderstanding and prejudice towards refugees. The people we were sitting with reminded me strongly of friends in England who also have a cerebral-palsy child. Both families are middle class, professional and liberal minded – both hospitable, dignified and kind,. But as I sipped my tea and played peek-a-boo with the little girl who was staring wide eyed at us, I marveled at how this family could cope with being dealt such an awful double blow.

Lou I noticed was equally thoughtful. “This is the sort of project we need to replicate in other cities,” he said “we need this sort of work to be happening in Iraq, Syria and Yemen – we need to be able to reach the people who haven’t been able to make it out.”

The boy began to cry and we were quietly ushered from the room.

I was brought back to the present by Henry asking the Minister a question about DFID’s support for smaller charities – and used his visit to Jordan and the Sir Bobby Charlton Centre to illustrate the importance of delivering aid and services at a local level with local partners.

Our visit to Jordan was very brief – but the impact on me, and I hope Henry was huge. When you see for yourself how dedicated people can make such a positive difference to people’s lives it makes you realise just how important it is to support them and charities like the Sir Bobby Charlton Foundation.