“Think globally, act locally” is a slogan that I wore as a child on my T-shirts. I have watched as over the course of my life the movements of environmentalism and localism have been picked up by the capitalistic mainstream. Now, local scenes are not only common they are popular.
I admit, as a young professional concerned about the impact of ecological destruction on communities, localism is extremely attractive to me. I support urban gardens, farmers markets, local business, and community development.
So when I was in Jordan, I was fascinated when we ate at farm-to-table restaurants and shopped in stores that only sold Jordanian goods. The presence of women’s co-ops, local artists, and community run organizations made me feel at home. I could live in Jordan and still engage in activities that were in accordance with my values. Right?!
With the support of Friends Journal, I spent many hours interviewing peace organizations around Amman. One of these organizations, which I came across accidentally on the web (and turned out was connected with several Quakers with whom I am friends), the Women’s Federation for World Peace, offered me another perspective on localism, and leads me to question, "Who does localism benefit? Who really are your neighbors?"
Focus Interview: Fusayo Irikura, Women’s Federation for World Peace
While localism is gaining attention in Jordan, who is considered local is another issue. The public face of Jordan will tell you that Jordan is welcoming of all refugees and open to the world. While its borders may have been open in the past, the borders to Palestine and to Iraq are now closed. With numbers encroaching upon 50 percent of the Jordanian population, Palestinian refugees have been afforded substantial rights by the government; Iraqi refugees, whom are much fewer in population, are another matter.
The Iraqis living in Jordan are the hidden neighbor. Two waves of emigration mark the development of the Iraqi population in Jordan, the first in 1991 as a result of the 2nd Gulf War, and the second in 2003 right before the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Today, Iraqi refugees in Jordan make up 18–35 percent of the population, a number difficult to ascertain because of the high number of the unrecognized.
The political realities for the Iraqi-Jordanian population are stark. Most refugees who have been able to gain international resettlement have, and most of those who are left behind cannot leave Jordan or gain legal refugee status. The most common reason for this prohibition is that the husband/father of the family was in the past involved in the Iraqi military. Therefore the family cannot return to Iraq because of security issues, cannot leave because of resettlement restrictions, and cannot gain legal status because of Jordanian security concerns.
Families therefore are stuck. In Jordan, if you do not have legal status, you cannot legally go to school, hold a job, or have access to public services such as hospitals. Poverty is passed on through the family to the children who grow up with little hope of a better future.
In 1994, Fusayo Irikura came from Japan to Jordan as the representative of the Women’s Federation for World Peace. The purpose of her work in 1994 changed drastically in 2006 when it became apparent that the situation of the Iraqi refugees was going to be long-term and very difficult. Initially Fusayo created a football (soccer) league to give the refugee children an alternative to violence and gang behavior. There are now five teams who receive weekly physical training, trauma healing, and leadership training.
Her work with the football teams transformed into an entire system of refugee support. Fusayo, working out of a small apartment in a refugee neighborhood in Amman, has established relationships with USAID, the Jordanian government, the United Nations, and wealthy Iraqi families. She coordinates English classes, the distribution of foreign aid, and takes in youth who have been separated from their families through the resettlement process. There are now schools that educate refugee children and hospitals that offer pro-bono services.
The most rewarding and frustrating part of Fusayo’s work is the resettlement cases. She remarked that “at this point, most of the people who can be resettled have been resettled. Those who are left have little hope.” When cases do successfully go through the resettlement process there is much celebration. However the process to achieve success is more often disheartening.
Families are discovering that after years of poverty and the little hope available to their children, the “sins of the father” cannot dictate the future of the family. Therefore, loving couples are seeking divorce so that the women and children of the family may successfully seek resettlement outside of Jordan. The fathers and husbands who are left behind often return to Iraq to suffer the consequences of their past and the families are never again reunited.
I listened to Fusayo’s stories while sitting in her small apartment. Two young Iraqi boys worked and lived with her, as well as another older woman. They shared their stories of violence and tragedy and of their present situation. The boys told me of their hopes to go to school in the U.S., one in San Francisco and one in Chicago.
Some of you readers may know that I am participating in a Christian Peacemaker Team delegation to Iraq in October. I’ve been researching the Kurdish north and I have been in contact now with several nonviolence organizations in the area. Through my clearness process for my trip I discovered a deep leading to work with the world’s hidden neighbors. My meeting with Fusayo confirmed once again that which lays heavy on my heart.
After that meeting, I wrote a letter to a dear friend who had worked with Iraqis and cried my way through sending it. As I settled in to worship, a different understanding of localism emerged: with the world concentrating on the localism movement—in terms of urban gardens and local goods—what is the Quaker role now? My leading is to engage with those who many wish weren’t their neighbors. Who lives next to you?
first published at the blog of Friends Journal