by Diana Stoyanova
Describing himself as a storyteller, Jordan Hattar came to speak at our school from the 9th to the 11th of October. Though he is only in his twenties, Jordan has developed ties with multiple refugee camps, worked as Michelle Obama’s intern in the White House, and started his own organization. He describes his main goal as “trying to put a human touch to the Syrian refugee crisis.”
Q: What inspired you to start working with refugees?
A: You know, ever since I was probably five years old, I’ve always wanted to be able to help and I didn’t think it was possible. I think [it was] realizing that we can make a difference, we don’t have to be older. That probably started with Hurricane Katrina and different events when I was in middle school. But then it was my Arabic teacher, I liked her a lot and just seeing her suffer made me want to do something. I felt like I could do something because I had to study abroad anyway. So I convinced my parents saying that I was going to study abroad in Jordan, which I did a little bit, but most of the time I was just in the camp.
Q: Where have you worked before?
A: So the Zataari refugee camp is really like a second home to me now. I know it’s silly but I went back there and was like, “I love the smell of this place.” I don’t know, I got there in the beginning during the conception of the camp, in the fall of 2012 and I’ve been going back and forth ever since. I know most of the refugees that live inside the camp so I’ve been getting to know some of the refugees that live outside the camp. But [overall] Jordan, the country of Jordan. I’ve also been to the Calais camp. Of course, the people in South Sudan weren’t refugees though some of the ones living in Kenya were because if you’re displaced within your country you’re not a refugee right? You’re IDP.
Q: Do you have a favorite place that you’ve worked at so far?
A: Well, Zataari camp is like home. But school-wise honestly your school has made an impact, I really mean that. There is a 6th grader that came up to me and was like, he ran up to me on the soccer field yesterday afternoon and he was like, “I want to fundraise for the refugees.” And I was like, “What made you want to do that?” And he’s like “I want to be like Alex.” The six year old [who wrote to Obama]. I was like oh my goodness–yeah, that means a lot.
Q: When did you start doing school tours?
A: In January. So I left Mrs. Obama’s office, my last day was January 6th of this year and then I started speaking January 11th. I didn’t know how long it was going to go. I had an opportunity to work full time or part time with Mrs. Obama’s NGO but I really feel like this is where I should be right now and I can always go back to that. It’s just taken off; I’ve given over 105 talks in 25 countries. It inspires me. I think the reason I started speaking was to try to counter the current political climate. I think this is exactly where I should be.
Q: What do you usually do when you visit schools?
A: I always try to play basketball. I always try to make sure people don’t think I’m above, like a guest speaker because that creates barriers. I think barriers are some of the things that are inhibiting us from understanding the refugees. So how are high schoolers going to understand me sharing a story if there’s barriers between us? So it’s a wide variety. [In] some schools I do service, some it’s compassion, at some I help students with activities that they’re trying to spark at school and other times it can even just be one-on-one talking with people that really care about this world.
Q: What do you plan to do after you finish giving talks?
I don’t know. Bum it around Cambridge? I don’t know–I think–follow my heart. I share that because that’s what always engages me, figuring out where I belong in this world. I was at the Istanbul International Community School and the director of the school sat me down at lunch and said, “The best answer you gave was that you don’t know what you’re going to do in your future.” I was like, “That’s like the worst answer.” But I think it’s okay to not know what’s next. I want to keep countering some of the messages I hear in the world about refugees. I think Martin Luther King, I remember looking at some of his speeches and there’s so many parallels. I think we’re at a pretty difficult time in this world. We’ve got some difficult days ahead so we have to stand up for our neighbor because there’s going to be minority groups right now in our world that are really pushed down.
Q: What does your organization, help4refugees, do?
A: I mean it’s basically full time speaking but then also helping those that want to help and connecting those who need help. There’s one donation project, one initiative, which is a lot of the schools I spoke at are fundraising for this midwife training facility in northern Syria. That’s in partnership with the Syrian-American medical society. [However,] I think it’s more than donating. I think it’s about changing our hearts and minds, changing ourselves. So I try to connect students to Syrian refugee. Penpals, what’s better than that? It’s so old school. [Also, there’s] Skype sessions between Syrian students and the schools I’m at. I’ve been at those Skype session and that feels so important because we’re breaking down misperceptions on both sides.
Q: So you’ve met a lot of influential individuals, who would you say was the most inspirational to you?
A: Carl Wilkens, the guy that came and spoke here [about the Rwandan genocide]. You remember him? I just always wanted to find something worth holding on to in this world and he showed me that there was a different way to live life. Same with Deng, Deng and Carl. Deng the one I lived with in South Sudan. Carl always showed me that with charisma, with following your heart, that you can achieve your goals. He says that if we settle for less, we get less. He also says that we have to look for the good in people and I think now that’s more important than ever because of the world climate. But yeah, Carl.
Q: Finally, what advice would you give to someone wanting to get more involved with world issues?
A: I would say learn the stories not just the statistics. Meet the people, even if that’s in our own communities. If there’s a global crisis, like the Syrian refugee crisis, no matter where I’ve been, like rural parts of Canada or rural parts of the world, there’s always going to be some Syrian population where you are. So find out how they’re doing. One story I would share is I met a guy in the refugee camp and his name is Suleiman. He got a job outside the camp but he can’t leave the camp and I asked him why. He said, “Oh no, actually I can.” I said, “Okay, why aren’t you leaving the camp?” He said “Because I don’t want my three year old Jenna and my one year old Ahmed to think that they’re not as important as the kids that they play with. If we leave the camp we’re second class citizens wherever we go in the world.” So what we can do I think the most is not holding refugees, not holding people at an arm’s length away, not withholding relationships with these people, not being afraid.