Q&A with Karen Soerensen, Country Director for Tearfund in Jordan, Lebanon and Yemen

Our series of Q&As with country directors continues with Karen Soerensen, Country Director for Jordan, Lebanon and Yemen since 2017. Originally from Denmark, she shares her thoughts on some of the challenges facing the Middle East, an encouraging project for men who are refugees and how new technology helps her work in Yemen.

Exercise classes for refugees in Jordan. Photo: Stella Chetham

How and why did you start working for Tearfund? 

For many years I have worked in Africa and Asia, but some years ago God put the Middle East on my heart. I liked the values which Tearfund seeks to promote, so when a position came up I applied and was recruited to the Middle East. 

‘It has surprised me how many of the men change after attending just a few sessions and how they form a sort of unity or family.’

Karen Soerensen
Photo: Karen Soerensen

What are the key challenges you are facing in your work? 

It is a very complex context in the Middle East and dealing with three crises in Iraq, Syria and Yemen is very challenging. I had – and still have – to gain a lot of new knowledge and insight in order to understand the different cultures and some of the dynamics that steer the conflicts. 

Another challenge is the huge need compared with the small grants we can give to our partners for reaching out to the most vulnerable people.

Can you tell us about a recent project that has encouraged you? 

Our partner in Jordan is running a small project for refugee men. The men meet for an awareness session and afterwards they do physical exercises. The awareness session can be about health, family matters, conflict resolution, self-discipline, trauma etc. It has surprised me how many of the men change after attending just a few sessions and how they form a sort of unity or family. After months of sitting at home, being angry and feeling alone in a foreign country, this group has helped them to find hope and teaches them to take care of their families instead of turning their internal frustration on them.

How has faith motivated or guided the growth of this work? 

The men come from different faith backgrounds but the project has helped build bridges between the men despite religious differences and has created a solidarity among them. 

What practical advice would you give to others who might just be starting out in this field? 

Consider the sustainability of the work. Implement the project in collaboration with a community-based organisation or church who will be able to take over after the coaches have been trained and the first or second group has graduated. 

What areas of potential do you see in your work and country? 

We hope that one day the Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon will be able to return to their home. Unfortunately this is not likely to happen in the near future. So working on peacebuilding and psychosocial support is the best thing we can do in the meantime to mitigate the impact of the trauma and to address some of the root causes of the conflicts in the Middle East. 

Yemen is different as the basic needs are huge – this is the world's biggest humanitarian crisis. However, besides emergency food distribution we have now moved on to projects in livelihoods (agriculture) and psychosocial support, which we hope to expand in the coming years. 

Does new technology have a role to play in your work? 

In places we are not present, we use new IT technology like Kobo to monitor the projects. Designed at Harvard University with the UN, it is made for humanitarian field work. We use Kobo to collect data in the field using mobile devices such as phones or tablets, as well as with paper or computers. It is fast, accurate and can be used offline in remote areas.

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