AMMAN – If you’ve ever taken your family on holiday you will understand. The lost socks, the last minute dash for the toilet which holds everybody up, the thousand things to remember not to leave behind and the final (manic) rush out the door straight into hours of traffic.
Imagine then, the logistics behind planning an international trip that will fulfill a lifetime’s wish for hundreds of orphans, disabled children and widows.
I think about this as I stand in the chilling cold car park of Sports City, Amman. This is the third year of Islamic Help’s annual Umrah For Orphans project. I will be alongside the children and the widowed mothers, many of whom despite hardships and managing large families alone, have also memorized the Holy Qur’an, every step of the way.
We are traveling in convoy, some by plane, most by road from Jordan to the Holiest site in Islam, the Kaa`ba, Makkah, Saudi Arabia.
Bags and bags of bread, fruit and the kinds of goodies children love to snack on during journeys are loaded by team workers onto the seven coaches. Dozens of boys aged seven to seventeen kick footballs in the car park and share jokes in excited groups.
There were more than 400 children, from impoverished refugee camps in Jordan. Za’atari refugee camp is now home to an estimated 80,000 Syrian refugees. Some of the children climbing onto the buses have recently fled the horrors of conflict. Most are the third generation born into the hardship of Palestinian refugee camps such as 1968, Irbid camp, home to more than 25,000 people.
Forty of the children cope with physical disabilities as well. Some boys are blind, others are without hearing. Several have conditions, which mean they use wheelchairs.
Before the exited groups head off towards the Saudi border, I am introduced to the most severely disabled boy, Muhammed Aziz, who suffers cerebral palsy. His mother, Warda, is letting her frail son travel with his father. A joyful moment in an otherwise agonizing time. In 2016, Warda’s daughter, Muhammed’s sister, died from the condition which has reduced him to a rigid bodily position that makes you ache to see it.
‘Alhamdulilah’ she says stroking her sons hair as he is carried by her elder daughter to listen to the beautiful Qur’anic recitation of one of the sight-impaired young men.
“This makes me so happy to see him traveling to Allah’s house, to visit the resting place of the Prophet SAWS [peace be upon him].” She is too strong to cry, but my throat fills with emotion for her.
“He wants to go and ask Allah the Kareem, to protect his sister.”
The coaches finally leave in a joyful exodus. The next time I will see the orphans will be, if Allah wills, at the Kaa`ba, in Makkah.
I set off to the airport with Muhammed Aziz and the other disabled children flying to Jeddah and reaching Makkah by road. This will, for all of us, be the journey of a lifetime.
To find out more about Umrah For Orphans follow this link:
About Lauren Booth
Lauren Booth is a journalist, broadcaster and public speaker, specialising in human rights. She can be contacted through Twitter: LaurenBoothUK; FB: Official.Lauren.Booth; or website: laurenbooth.org