When she went home to Aqaba, Jordan, over winter break, Lillian Gharios ’18 noticed her aunt kept slipping out in the evenings. When Gharios asked her what she was up to, her aunt said she was assisting some 136 Christian refugees who had been displaced by ISIS from Iraq.
Gharios expressed an interest in accompanying her aunt to the two churches where the families were staying. The refugees, who had fled Iraq with no money or possessions — just the clothes on their backs — had been camping out in two crowded hallways in the churches since August. Her aunt and her aunt’s friend had donated bedding and clothing. An NGO provides them with bread and cooking oil, but the refugees don’t have many stoves or much fuel, according to Gharios.
Gharios, her aunt and a friend delivered toys and other gifts to help the Iraqis celebrate Christmas. “One grandmother was crying the whole time,” Gharios recalled. “She said she wanted to go home.”
When Gharios returned to Bowdoin, she thought about what she could do to raise money to send to the Iraqi families she had gotten to know. She gave a Food for Thought talk, attended by 40 or 50 students, in which she provided background to the crisis and explained the brutal treatment of Christians and other religious minorities at the hands of the Islamic State.
“I also talked about my experience growing up around terrorists,” she said. While Jordan is a peaceful country, conflict is never far away in the nations that share Jordan’s borders, she explained.
At the talk, Gharios asked for volunteers to shovel professors’ decks and to perform other services to raise money. She has also launched a gofundme site to collect donations. She was surprised by how many students raised their hands, and on Saturday, three students headed out to shovel snow. (Only two people requested the service).
Cole Hamel ’18 and Espiridion Ruiz ’18 cleared the front path and back deck of the home of Bill VanderWolk, Bowdoin’s Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Professor of Modern Languages Emeritus. VanderWolk said the students were much needed as his regular shoveler had taken off skiing. Pausing briefly from his labor, Hamel said he was moved by Gharios’s description of the plight of the Christians in Jordan and wanted to help “someone half a world away.” Ruiz said he was there “to pay it forward.” On the other side of town, Ziang Zhou ’18 shoveled snow for Diane Fournier, who works in the controller’s office.
Gharios, who grew up in Jordan and speaks Arabic and English, attended Hebron Academy, in Hebron, Maine, for one year during high school on an ASISST scholarship. She said her headmaster introduced her to Bowdoin College.