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The woman from Belfast helping Syria's refugees build a new life in Jordan

By Rebecca Black

Published 04/02/2016

Barbara Hewitt is the Department for International Development’s deputy head in Jordan, where 10% of the people are Syrian refugees
Barbara Hewitt is the Department for International Development’s deputy head in Jordan, where 10% of the people are Syrian refugees

A Belfast woman is helping refugees from the Syrian conflict to rebuild their lives.

Barbara Hewitt (33) is the Department for International Development's deputy head in Jordan, where 10% of the population is now Syrian refugees.

She says her passion for reaching out comes from her mother, a long-time member of the Mother's Union.

Today, Barbara will play a major role at the Supporting Syria and the Region conference in London, announcing the UK's long-term strategy to help Syrian refugees, promoting investment in Jordan to boost its economy and create jobs.

It's a far cry from east Belfast, where Barbara grew up and attended Strathearn Grammar School.

She moved to Liverpool in 2000 to study law at university, and after working for Liverpool Football Club joined the Department for International Development.

"I wanted to use my communications experience to do something a bit more meaningful and the Department for International Development was the part of Government I wanted to work for," she said.

Barbara cut her teeth working for Prime Minister David Cameron in Downing Street in 2011, and even met Barack Obama.

"David Cameron was always very personable with everyone; Samantha Cameron would come in sometimes to see people, and you'd have Larry the Downing Street cat climbing over your keyboard," she said.

Her first international posting was to Islamabad in Pakistan in 2012, where she witnessed the country's transition to democracy.

It had a profound effect on her and signalled a shift in her career path towards policy advice.

Her first posting in this role was to Jordan, where the UK had recently reopened its office to help the Jordanians cope with the mass influx of refugees from Syria.

Barbara likened the friendliness and warmth of the people of Jordan with the people of Northern Ireland.

But the pressure of so many refugees has been a challenge.

"There has been a severe impact on services for Jordanians. Schools have gone up to double shifts, two school days in one; the Jordanian children have the first half of the day, then the Syrian children the second half, but both sets get fewer hours," she said.

"The waste and water systems are also under a lot of pressure.

"People are human, they need hope and dignity.

"The things they want are to be able to support themselves and provide for their families, and for their children to receive an education."

Barbara said that is why the UK is launching a longer term strategy to help Syrian refugees which will be encouraging investment in Jordan to help the economy, as well as providing new jobs for both Jordanians and Syrians.

International Development Secretary Justine Greening said: "The skills and expertise of DFID staff like Barbara have been vital in helping the UK deliver its largest ever humanitarian response.

"We have pledged over £1.1bn to the Syria crisis, bringing lifesaving support to millions in Syria and the region, as well as ensuring a whole generation of children caught up in this terrible conflict don't miss out on their education.

"On Thursday world leaders will come together for a major summit on Syria, right here in the UK. It will be an historic moment."

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