Soft spoken but confident, eager to share but a patient listener, Michel Fashho seems a man who has long since struck a hard-won balance within himself. As a Christian Arab in Jordan, Michel has been shaped by his role as a minority and has used that formative experience to touch the lives of others.
"As a Christian, I want to highlight the role of Christians in society," Michel says. "My father was a volunteer in the community, so I want to continue with that kind of work."
And continue it he has. A member of the Caritas Jordan Volunteers and Youth Program, Michel has joined a cadre of 500 volunteers who are seeking to fill a void they observed developing in Christian communities throughout this predominately Muslim nation. The population of Christians in Michel's hometown of Salt in southern Jordan has shrunk from around 25 percent in the early 20th century to less than 3 percent today. Michel saw that Christians in his community were starting to struggle not just with their physical needs, as many slipped into poverty, but also with their religious and social identity.
"Christians realize they are a minority and they are often overprotective of their children, so they don't let their children mingle in the Muslim community," Michel says. "But we are a peaceful religion, and we should be a part of the whole community."
'We Should Help Others'
Michel joined the Salt Committee, one of 30 volunteer groups across Jordan linked to the Caritas Jordan Volunteer and Youth Program. Supported by Catholic Relief Services, the Caritas program helps the Salt and other committees carry out a wide range of civic activities at the parish level in communities with Christian populations.
Through his committee, Michel and 11 other members provide food to ill or vulnerable community members. They raise awareness about available social services and Caritas tuition loans available to aspiring but impoverished college students. Currently, the Salt Committee supports 70 local families. And, although building community among the minority Christian population is the program's main goal, Michel says the group also wanted to reach out to any families in need.
"What we did was build relationships with Muslim [nongovernmental organizations] and did a lot of local networking," Michel says. "Through this network, we received the names of families in the Muslim community and we said we would help them."
An Orthodox Christian himself, Michel says the various Christian churches in Jordan have no common group or cause to unify them. A passionate believer in the power of volunteerism, he says he sees social work as the binding agent that helps Christians support both themselves and their communities in uncertain times for Christians in the Middle East.
"It's our belief, our upbringing, our Christianity, that says we should help others and always be looking out for our neighbors," Michel says. "I want to put that into practice."
David Snyder is a photojournalist based in Baltimore, Maryland.