Small Investment, Big Return: Why We Tell Stories From the Field

Small Investment, Big Return: Why We Tell Stories From the Field


By: Nicole Ellis, Policy Communications Manager, CARE

As a communicator, my goal is to find the best stories and messages from CARE’s work around the globe and share them as widely as possible. I consider it one of the most rewarding and important tasks of my work. Why? At CARE, we know these programs save lives and combat poverty, but without real life stories, it’s hard to know the true impact of these investments.  

Last month, I returned from a Learning Tour to Jordan and the magnitude of the cheer-inducing and heartbreaking stories was overwhelming. Our delegation returned from the trip, however, carrying one resounding message: We absolutely must continue our U.S. leadership in places like Jordan because the future stability of our world depends on it.  

Currently, Jordan is home to more than 660,000 refugees, making it one of the largest populations of displaced people in the world.  Most of these refugees are fleeing extreme violence in Syria, where the majority are women and children and more than half are under the age of 18. Zaatari, the largest refugee camp in Jordan, is home to more than 80,000 Syrians who’ve fled bombed-out homes with nothing but the clothes on their backs. They all came to Jordan in search of life’s basics – water, shelter, food, health care and safety. 

Our delegation of policymakers, technical experts and media traveled to Jordan to witness the reach, scope and impact made by U.S. investments and partnerships. We designed the trip to provide delegates with a range of perspectives on what life is like for displaced families in Jordan and the types of humanitarian assistance being provided by the U.S. and Jordanian governments. For many in our group, this was their first visit to Jordan and it quickly became evident how dire the situation is. 

One of our first stops on this trip was at the Zaatari refugee camp and its maternity clinic – the only one in the camp – which is run by UNFPA and operates in partnership with Jordan Health Aid Society International (JHASI). This is where refugee mothers and families can access critical health care services including safe delivery, counseling, sexual and reproductive health services and gender-based violence support.  They’ve delivered more than 7,000 babies and miraculously, not a single mother has died. Tragically, in April, the Trump Administration eliminated all U.S. funding for UNFPA.

At every stop of our two-day visit, we heard stories about violence, trauma and grief. More often though, we heard about survivors like Shareefa and entrepreneur’s like Rania, who exemplify what happens when determined women are provided with a few simple resources like health care, cash assistance and legal documentation. 

We met Shareefa at CARE’s urban refugee community center, located in East Amman.  She and her four children arrived in Jordan in 2014. They stayed in Zaatari for five months, but since they’d fled Syria without official documents or money, none of her children could enroll in school. Two of her children developed hepatitis from the camp’s poor sanitation services. With no health care or medication available for them in the camp, Shareefa traveled to Amman with her children and took a job as a caretaker.  Her son, Mohammad, avoided getting hepatitis but had to work long hours picking scrap metal to help support the family.  After a couple of years of this, Mohammad was exhausted, angry and depressed.

Right around this time, Shareefa heard about CARE’s cash assistance program, which offers families control over how they’ll spend their money. CARE’s assistance enabled Shareefa to enroll both Mohammad and his brother in school and it wasn’t long before she noticed a tremendous difference in his mental health and behavior. Today, Mohammad is doing great in his classes and has big plans for his future. He’s dreaming of becoming a doctor so he can help children in refugee settings avoid getting sick like his siblings did.  That’s what we call a return on investment.

We met Rania at a small community-based organization called Sanabel Al-Khair in East Amman, where they work with CARE Jordan to provide vocational training in computer literacy, sewing, cooking and cosmetology. Their goals are to provide long-term development assistance and human capacity building for women refugees andJordanian host communities and help women develop income-generating skills.

Rania told us that her husband is a celebrity-barber and he encouraged her to enroll in a training program. This took Rania way out of what little comfort zone she had left, but today, she’s a successful beautician who helps support her family. Rania’s daughter commented that watching her mom build a career and seeing the tremendous impact it’s made on her family has inspired her to do the same. The beauty of U.S. foreign assistance programs is that they create a ripple effect for the next generation and so on.

As we visited several other programs where U.S. foreign assistance contributes to lifesaving, world-changing, sustainable humanitarian assistance, we saw what’s possible when small investments support the most vulnerable, resilient and tenacious members of society.  We learned that help and hope are available for those who can reach camps and cities where emergency services are provided by humanitarian organizations like CARE and Mercy Corps and government agencies like UNFPA and USAID. We met the heroes and humanitarians who put in long hours to meet the needs of millions of frightened, desperate people. We saw the toll that this crisis is taking as it drags on into its seventh year and we saw that in too many places, supplies and hope are becoming increasingly limited. When they run out, as they almost certainly will if UNFPA and U.S. foreign assistance aren’t appropriately funded, the consequences will be devastating in Jordan, Syria, the United States and around the world. 

One of our delegates, Rep. Ami Bera (D-CA-07) said in summary from the trip, “It was important to see the positive impacts that U.S. foreign assistance has on the health and well-being of families in refugee camps. This trip has reinforced my belief that the United States plays a vital role in assisting refugees and women around the world.”

I came home from Jordan thinking about how the U.S.’s “vital role” helps support Shareefa’s determination and Rainia’s courage to invest in their own futures and the futures of the next generation.  Their quiet stories will never compete with front-page news, but their lives, contributions and security are as critical for global stability as anything else you’ll read in the headlines. That’s why it’s up to each of us to tell their stories and demand that the U.S. continues to invest in foreign assistance and funding to UNFPA.  We must make sure our leaders get the message: Investments today are investments for the future.

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