Rana Massadeh was raised Christian in the predominately Muslim nation of Jordan.
"I grew up in the Roman Catholic Church and I went to church regularly," Rana says. "I started to notice there were a lot of Christian families in need, and no one was helping them."
Casting about for a way to help, Rana found the Caritas Jordan Volunteer Program, launched in 2001 as a pilot effort designed to spread the concept of social and volunteer work among Catholic parishes. Eventually, the program, supported since its inception by Catholic Relief Services, grew to include a network of 30 volunteer committees aimed at involving young people in the development of their communities.
Giving Food, Money Is Not Enough
After identifying the needs of the Christian community near her home in the Misdar region of Amman, Rana says she and other volunteers in the Misdar Committee soon realized that simply offering food and money was not enough. "We started meeting with [Christians in need] every Sunday at the church, having prayers, doing Bible discussions and providing breakfast," she says. "They started having a feeling of unity—that they didn't have to face their problems on their own."
That community spirit—cultivated through activities that meet local Christians' physical needs while fostering a cultural and spiritual community—paid dividends. The Misdar community, Rana says, came to trust them.
"We noticed in a meeting at church that some of the local kids were failing in their classes," Rana says. "The families asked, 'How can we help our children if we can't help ourselves? Help us help our children.' "
Realizing that illiteracy rates were high among women in the community, Rana and the other volunteers set up an adult literacy class. Every Saturday for an hour, 13 female students learned the basics of reading and writing. As news of the class spread, a local Muslim leader asked the volunteers if three young women from his community could also take part. The class immediately welcomed them. Now a group of 16 women, Rana says the students can sign their names and write their addresses. The course has expanded to include weekly tutoring for 30 children who struggle with schoolwork.
Across Jordan, the Volunteer Program is having a powerful effect. Communities have joined to assist those within their own fold who need help—a sea change from life in the past, Rana says. And change is what she hopes to see more of.
Although Rana began working as a full-time staff member for Caritas in 2007, her heart still lies with her community. She continues to volunteer with the Misdar Committee every weekend. The reasons, she says, are simple.
"We started seeing the fruit of our labors. I feel that the way to lead in the future is to help people become active participants in their community.
David Snyder is a photojournalist based in Baltimore, Maryland.