AMMAN – A uniquely placed agency of the Vatican has launched an emergency relief program for Iraqi refugee families in Jordan. Spearheaded by Franciscan Sister Wardeh Kayrouz, Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA) has set up five distribution centers in the Jordanian capital of Amman that have the heaviest concentration of Iraqis.
Sister Wardeh and a group of 24 women volunteers pack boxes of rice, beans, sugar, tea, macaroni, oil and other basics, enough food for a family of four for 20 days. Sister Wardeh expects to feed some 1,200 families a month.
“We plan to continue this effort for three more months – with the possibility of an extension,” Sister Wardeh said. “There is a lot of need out there and we try our best to help as many people as possible.”
Sister Wardeh, a social worker in CNEWA’s Amman office, has been assisting displaced Iraqis since the Persian Gulf War in 1991. Though Iraqis did not storm the Jordanian-Iraqi border at the start of fighting earlier this spring, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have quietly made their way to Amman since 1991. There they await visas to join family and friends in the Americas, Australia and western Europe.
“While they are here,” Sister Wardeh said, “they have to be cared for, they must be fed.”
“The demand is so great,” the Lebanese-born nun said, “that some people leave the centers empty-handed. We take their names and give them the date and place of the next distribution.
“And for those who cannot come in person due to illness or old age, we will deliver food to their homes.”
Ra’ed Bahou, CNEWA’s Regional Director for Jordan and Iraq, said, “We chose to focus on feeding Iraqis already in Amman rather than at the border since no one was really concentrating on caring for those here.”
CNEWA’s food distribution effort is funded in part by Misereor, a relief and development agency of the German Catholic bishops, and Aid to the Church in Need.
In addition to CNEWA’s food distribution program in Amman, CNEWA continues to offer free medical care to needy Iraqi refugees at Amman’s Italian Hospital. In Iraq proper, major relief efforts include immediate medical assistance and food distribution – coordinated by the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, a Chaldean Catholic community based in Mosul – and long-term health care and educational and vocational training.
“We always work through the church’s grassroots network,” said Mr. Bahou. “Bishops, priests and sisters know the needs of the people, Christian or not.”
“Our doors are open to everybody,” said Sister Wardeh, echoing CNEWA’s longstanding motto, “need not creed.”
Founded by Pope Pius XI in 1926, CNEWA is a special agency of the Vatican providing support to the churches and peoples of the Middle East, Northeast Africa, India and Eastern Europe. Projects include needy child, seminarian and novice sponsorship programs; village redevelopment and resettlement programs; health care and education; and interfaith dialogue.