- By Pim Valdre, ActionAid ARI's global volunteer
“In Shallah” – one of the first expressions I’ve picked up during my first week as a Global Volunteer for ActionAid Arab Regional Initiative in Jordan. There is no easy translation for this expression, definitely not in Swedish! But I use it as I navigate my new environment and it seems to work pretty well.
While I am entering the ligh and white building in Zarqa in Northern Jordan that hosts ActionAid’s Community Center, I have thousands of questions circulating in my mind. How did a Swede end up in Jordan you might ask? I just landed from New York after having had a desk job on conflict resolution and political developments. But now meeting youth at ActionAid’s Community Center I want to get a deeper insight of the challenges host communities face in Jordan.
The center is an initiative to strengthen the social cohesion in Jordan and to create a platform for youth to become engaged, train in life skills and advocate for positive change. Today around 30 youth are gathered from Jordan, Syria, Palestine and around the region.
One of the inspiring youth I speak to is Hind 16 years old. “My dream is to become an astronomer” - she says. She tells me she wants to become a scientist that studies stars, planets, galaxies and the black holes in universe. Originally from the town of Hama in Syria, she was forced to leave with her family after the breakout of the civil war and she now lives in Zarqa. Despite the difficult situation for Syrian youth in Jordan she is optimistic about the future. She comes to the Center to work on her English, participate in creative activities and meet other young people.
Another person is Ekram 19 years old. Her family is originally from Syria but she grew up in Zarqa. “The situation for Syrian refugees in Jordan is very difficult” - she says. Many lack opportunities for employment, education and ways to make a decent living for their families. Children and young people are particularly affected.
Ekram is studying at university to become an energy engineer. She wants to return to Syria and help rebuild the country “one day, when there is peace”.
As we drive back to Amman I think of these inspiring young women and the other youth I’ve met in Zarqa during my first time in Jordan. Despite the many challenges they face they refuse to give up and to lose hope. In Zarqa over 78,000 refugees have sought refuge since the outbreak of the war in Syria in 2011. The youth in Zarqa city continue to work hard, to grow and challenge themselves. It feels good to know that the Community Center hopefully will help them to continue their path of their dreams.
ActionAid has established 4 community centers in Jordan; in Zarqa, Russaifa, Madaba and Mafraq and two centers in Lebanon; in Baalbek and Joub Jennine. The centers aim to harness the leadership of youth as agents of change for the future and to strengthen the social cohesion in the local community.