Atascadero News photo courtesy of Jordan Hattar • Jordan Hattar stands in the middle of a group of South Sudanese youth during a mission to build a health clinic in their village in 2010. Hattar will leave for Jordan in about two weeks to distribute medical supplies and work to improve conditions there.
In two weeks, Jordan Hattar will head back to Jordan, a Middle-Eastern country which borders Iraq and Syria and for which Jordan was named after. There, he'll distribute medical aid and use his own two hands, working to improve conditions in Syrian refugee camps.
Hattar said the first time he went to Jordan was with his grandfather, who was born in that country. He was a freshman in high school. They went to be tourists, but an encounter in which an Israeli soldier pointed a gun at him changed things.
"It scared me and made me wonder what else was going on," he said.
It wasn't the first time he'd had his outlook on the world changed just by wondering what else was happening. In eighth grade, he, like so many others, watched the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina on TV. That was when things clicked. "I thought if people can be dying here, what's going on in other countries?" he asked. He donated all the money he had to help with Katrina's victims, but it wasn't enough, and he didn't yet know what else he could do. After getting a gun pulled on him in Jordan , he and his family continued on their three-week vacation, heading into the West Bank. There, Hattar saw poverty and sickness and despair. And his life changed. "I saw the suffering in the world," he said, "and I can make a change." He researched genocide. He read about people suffering, about folks not having clean water, about parents unable to safeguard their children from soldiers trying to kill them. He learned about the conditions in refugee camps. Two days after graduating from Templeton High School, he flew to South Sudan, where he was part of a crew that got villagers to volunteer their time and, all together, they created a whole lot of bricks. Those bricks built a medical clinic, which is now self-suffi- cient and treats people who would otherwise have had to walk miles upon miles for treatment .
Obviously, it wasn't easy. But even getting materials required some relaxed views of the law.
"At times we were on the black market to get the best [currency] conversion rate," Hattar said, noting that every cent counts.
Hattar said he got sick with a stomach infection toward the end and had to leave, and went to Jordan, where his grandfather was. He said he was never sure exactly how he got sick, but noted that hygiene is pretty difficult to maintain in South Sudan.
He spent quite a bit of time recovering in Jordan, and when he returned home to Templeton , he gave presentations at Vineyard Elementary School and Templeton High School telling about Sudanese independence. Going to Jordan, even to do good, requires money. Hattar asked McPhee's Grill owner Ian McPhee if he could or would help him raise the money to get there and buy the mosquito nets he wanted to give away. Hattar said McPhee delivered in grand style: 70 donated dinners raised $3,500, which bought more than 500 mosquito nets, helping reduce the number of malaria cases.
Since returning home from that post-high school trip, Hattar has enrolled at California State University, Long Beach, majoring in international relations. He's learning to speak Arabic. And he's not done in Jordan.
"These people, they're no different from us," he said.
He elaborated, saying that it's an accident he was born in the time and place he was. He could just as easily be one of more than 150,00 Syrian refugees living in refugee camps in Jordan.
On his next trip, he'll work with a young woman named Dina Alhhayek, a Jordanian- American and recent graduate from Cal State Long Beach. Hattar said she speaks fluent Arabic, which is a major help. On the trip, he said the kit he'll bring will be pretty minimal: a laptop, camera, passport and document folder, vitamin packets and Cliff bars. Oh, and a big suitcase full of medicine donated by the University of California at Irvine.
"And then focus," he said. "I'll get focused on what I'm doing. You just need a heart to make a difference. That's what drives me: knowing I can make people's lives better with my actions."
If there's a selfish aspect to the work Hattar's done in his young life, maybe it's the effect it's had on his grades. He said he was a B student in high school, but his experiences abroad have pushed him to do better. He has a 4.0 GPA at the moment.
"I didn't try my hardest in high school," he said.
But he's applying himself now. He said it's his ticket to doing more good.
On his next trip to do good, he said the camera and laptop will help him document his progress while he's overseas, but that Internet access isn't terribly easy to come by. It's not like he can upload video from his iPhone directly to YouTube. It's not even a matter of driving home to post photos and blog entries. It's more like driving to Bakersfield to post updates.
Hattar's website is www. help4refugees.com and includes a blog, video updates and methods for donating to his cause. A great example of how the money is used involves that suitcase of medicine. He said it's incredibly expensive to ship that suitcase, prohibitively expensive, even. He's taking it with him, but rather than accept more donations of medicine, he's requesting funds instead. Those funds, he said, will be used to buy medicine once he's in Jordan. Doing it that way means much more of the money will be used to buy medicine rather than ship medicine.
Part of his fundraising happens right here at home. Saturday , Sept. 8, he'll have a table at the Templeton Farmers' Market at Templeton Community Park from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. He said he's more than happy to speak to anybody about his plans and there will be a tip jar.
"Our community's been a big part of what I do," he said regarding fundraising and his battle against malaria, leprosy and syphilis. "Anyone can help. There's no one-size-fitsall . Everyone can do something . Everyone's purpose is a little different, but we're all connected."
Hattar will begin updating his website with his experiences in South Sudan some time after Sept. 15, the date he's scheduled to fly out. For more information or to donate, see him at farmers' market or go to www.help4refugees.org.