Garret Jackson still remembers her second of three daughters, Lauren Jackson, clinging to her leg on her first day of school more than 20 years ago, though it feels like yesterday.
“She was the most timid one. She was the one I had to peel off and go, ‘You’re fine, honey. Go,’ ” said Garret Jackson, a reading instructional specialist at South Bosque Elementary School. “Who would’ve thought she’s the one who lives so far away?”
That same shy little girl is now the woman giving her “brave inspiration” to grasp as she travels to Jordan. She left Saturday and will be spending the next two weeks helping her daughter teach English to Syrian educators in two refugee camps about 50 miles from the Syrian border and a major humanitarian crisis.
“Every day it’s been, ‘Mom, you’ve got to come. You need to help. Mom, you’ve got to come,” Garret Jackson said. “That’s how all this started. We were looking at the map, and my daughter does these brave and wonderful things, but I was like, ‘Sweetie, it’s not safe near Syria.’ She goes, ‘Mom, I’m not going into Syria.’ ”
As of March 2016, more than 250,000 Syrians have died in an ongoing civil war, which started in 2011, and more than 11 million others have been forced to leave their homes, according to the British Broadcasting Corporation. There are about 133,000 refugees between the two camps of Zaatari and Azraq, where she works, Lauren Jackson wrote in an email to the Tribune-Herald this week.
Lauren Jackson is working toward a master’s degree at American University’s International Training and Education Program. She got a Boren Fellowship earlier this year to go to Jordan. The program supports study of languages and cultures in countries where U.S. students are underrepresented.
The former Midway ISD employee has been living in Amman, Jordan, since June, commuting every day to the refugee camps.
The effort is part of Relief International, a nonprofit dedicated to reducing human suffering across the world, according to the group’s website.
Lauren Jackson is working to strengthen approaches to remedial English instruction by conducting classroom observations in the nonprofit’s eight education centers and mapping the needs of English teachers and students in the refugee camps, she said.
“When she said, ‘Mom, you need to come help,’ I said, ‘Babe, I don’t speak Arabic, what kind of help do you need?’ “ Garret Jackson said. “She said they teach them English, because English is the language that will get them out of these camps, that will give them hope.”
But the Syrian educators don’t have the background needed to teach English effectively, Garret Jackson said. If a student wants to continue studies beyond 12th grade in Jordan, they must take a test called Tawjihi, Lauren Jackson wrote.
The English portion of the exam is considered extremely difficult and Syrian refugees in Jordan face further challenges because Syrian teachers are teaching to students with interrupted schooling and often little prior exposure to the language, she wrote.
“I believe teachers have one of the most important and truly challenging jobs in the world, whether it’s teaching in Waco, Texas, or in a refugee camp,” Lauren Jackson wrote. “The difficulties teachers face are unique to their environment, but the desire to provide future opportunities for their students is often the same. Unfortunately in refugee camps like Azraq and Zaatari, few aspirations seem attainable, as the future feels very unknown.”
With a background of intensive training in reading intervention and how to teach systematic phonics, Garret Jackson agreed to make the trip. But first she had to find the funding.
She called the company she trained with, which agreed to send basic flashcards and some of the same tools she uses in her own classroom. Her fellow teachers also contributed $900 to buy supplies and pay for shipping costs, and the training company pitched in the rest to ship the supplies, she said.
“We talk with our students, parents and staff about displaying good citizenship and we define good citizenship as coming together to make our world a better place,” Principal Stacey Voigt said. “We remind our students also to be global citizens, which means there’s more to learning in life beyond the walls of South Bosque, so coming together (like this) is a good example of that good citizenship. We’re really proud of her and can’t wait to see pictures when she comes back.”
Knowing her mother will be with her soon to experience what she has encountered in the last several months will be the ultimate “bring-your-mom-to-work day,” Lauren Jackson wrote. When she is deeply invested in a project or cause, she loves nothing more than to rope in her family and friends, she said.
But she’s still the cautious, scared child her mother remembers, Lauren Jackson said.
“It’s interesting. People tend to use the word ‘brave’ when asking me that why question. But I think ‘brave’ sounds a little exclusionary. It’s one of those adjectives that feels static. You either are brave and can do scary things, or you aren’t so you stay home,” Lauren Jackson wrote. “I haven’t felt particularly brave at any point during this experience, but I’ve grown to listen to the stubborn conviction that often the opportunities that intimidate me the most are the ones most worth doing.
“I’m so thankful to have been invested in by people who are doing amazing things in their communities and in far-flung places. They continually remind me that compassion and stubbornness make a powerful combination in outweighing fear.”
That same compassion and stubbornness seen in her own daughter is what’s encouraging Garret Jackson, who called herself a “chicken by nature,” step beyond her comfort zone, she said. She kept waiting and waiting during the last few months for her daughter to tell her the experience was too daunting, but that never came.
The only time her daughter has shown any sign of feeling powerless was when she told her mother she felt like the work she was doing could only be a drop in a bucket, Garret Jackson said.
“It finally caught up with her just the mass need that’s there,” Garret Jackson said. “I guess my hope is just even here, as we’re shedding a little light on this campus, what I can go and do is nothing. It’s nothing, but at least it’s a beginning.
“What’s exciting is if we can get more light shed on that and more resources sent over, we can show people are still stuck in this state of indecision and we need to do something greater about this. I don’t know what that looks like, but I’m going to go find out.”