The following blog post is written by AUA’s Advisory Board Member Sarah Hassaine about AUA volunteer Luis Aguilar and the impression he received from his recent AUA trip to Jordan. To find an amazing volunteer opportunity, search the AUA Directory of Recommended Organizations© today
Sometimes life just deals you a hand of cards and you are just so happy with it, you want to tell everyone. That is how I feel right now. As a web designer at Creative Associates, my opportunities to travel abroad for work have been rare; in fact, I have never traveled abroad for work. So when I was approached to participate in a house build in Jordan for ten days, I immediately knew that this was something I could not pass up. I had actually never thought of volunteering abroad or even going to the Middle East per se, and the more I learned about this opportunity I found that there was no reason to turn it down.
Upon accepting the invitation by America’s Unofficial Ambassadors (AUA), I joined six other Americans on a ten day trip to Jordan where we were destined to visit the village of Salt, the capital Amman, and the renowned wonder of the world, Petra. We were unofficial ambassadors for a project entitled Build Peace by Building Homes which builds homes for deserving families in Jordan. While prepping for my trip, I learned that Jordan was chosen as a project destination because of its growing housing crisis. It is not uncommon to see 12-15 people share small two bedroom houses. In this case, we worked with a family whose son was recently married and needed a second story for their growing family.
Immediately upon our arrival, we were whisked away to Salt where we stayed in a Group House together and dedicated four straight days to building the second story alongside the family. During this time, we really got to know the family and when the time came to leave we were all so sad to part ways. The family appeared genuinely sad we were leaving and so appreciative of our help. I was really touched by their appreciation and I can only hope that they remember us. I personally wish I could have stayed longer and finished that build. But it was amazing how our objective to engage in the physical labor of building a home and to foster people-to-people partnerships at the community levelresulted in an overwhelmingly warm and happy feeling for all of us in just four days.
I was surprised by the level of hospitality the Jordanians have towards guests, guests that they don’t even know. We were the first group of Americans that the villagers in Salt had ever met, and they rolled out the red carpet for us. We were always invited to people’s houses, we drank so much tea and people just kept feeding us – the food never stopped. This struck a personal cord with me as I am of Salvadorian descent and my family is very similar. In fact, the entire time I was in Jordan, I felt like I was in Latin America. The cultures are both family oriented and incorporate religion into their way of life, be it Christian or Muslim Arabs. Even people there look Latin! I felt very comfortable.The trip helped me better understand Arab culture and what the Middle East is in general.
What most affected me was the warmth of the people, they would just come by and shake our hands and invite us over. It made me think of how different American Culture is. I never get invited to my neighbor’s homes, nor do I invite my neighbors to mine. There, without knowing us,they did that over and over again, it was humbling.
Now that I am back and reflecting on my experience in Jordan, I noticed that I am more hesitant to believe everything I see on television and read in media since I was proven wrong about my initial impressions of people from the Middle East. I came back definitely bearing more of an open mind, especially towards other Middle Eastern countries because I have less of a fear and more of an understanding. It is no longer an unknown.
Another element of surprise was the extreme biblical significance of the land. As a practicing Catholic, it impacted me on a personal and spiritual level because of the history in the region. I felt a connection to the land given it was the region where Christianity began. On this trip we went to Mt. Nebo, however on future trips, I hope to visit Israel, and other countries in the Levant with more religious historic sites.
I want to tell everyone what I experienced and I am now inspired to go back and travel extensively through the region. Yes, the cards were dealt and I got a good hand indeed. I learned about the true value of volunteering and about changing people’s life and the impact traveling can have on one’s faith and perception of the world. I hope the cards are dealt in your favor as well.