Ramadan Iftaars in Jordan

This weekend marks the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month when Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. It is a pretty big deal for Muslims as it is one of the five pillars of Islam and a big deal for non-Muslims in Jordan because restaurants close during the day and it is illegal to eat, drink or smoke in public.

My favorite part of Ramadan is the iftaar: the big meal that is shared at sunset to break the fast. The best iftaar that I attended this year by far was when I accompanied the Questscope team to break the fast with a non-formal education (NFE) center in Al-Rusayfa, about 45 minutes outside Amman.

That particular NFE center is very well attended and there were about 40 boys at the dinner along with their facilitators, the Ministry of Education liaison, and the principal and superintendent of the school that hosts the NFE sessions.

NFE boys feasting

NFE boys feasting

Mansaf: a traditional Jordanian dish of rice, lamb and tangy yogurt sauce eaten with the hands

Mansaf: a traditional Jordanian dish of rice, lamb and tangy yogurt sauce eaten with the hands

Me and the NFE boys in Al-Rusayfa

Me and the NFE boys in Al-Rusayfa

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Fun with Science in Irbid

Alhumdulileh Ramadan is over! Work hours return to normal, I can eat and drink on the streets without fear of arrest, and I’ll be able to resume site visits to the non-formal and informal education centers with members of the Questscope team.

This Ramadan I didn’t make much headway into the stacks of novels I brought with me from the US because throughout the month I was surprisingly busy.

Last spring I presented at a conference for young professionals and students working for change in the Middle East and North Africa region. There I met Hamza, the founder of the Scientific Culture Society here in Amman. The SCS is an organization that works to get kids excited about science through hands-on activities. These types of activities are quite rare in Jordan’s Science classrooms, which even at the elementary level are more like lecture sessions.

This Ramadan the SCS was invited to facilitate a few “Fun with Science” days for Syrian refugees and Jordanian orphans at a community center. These three hour sessions were held in Irbid, Jordan’s second largest city about an hour and a half north of Amman. I was very impressed with Irbid Youth Volunteers, the organization that puts on bi-weekly activities for underserved youth in the city. There were at least 10 very active and enthusiastic volunteers at each session, working with the kids and ensuring the success of the sessions!

I put my Curriculum Development class from my time at Penn to good use and designed the content of the sessions. As I learned to expect, the activities needed a bit of tweaking, each session was reworked to run smoother and be more engaging than the last. 

Last Wednesday was our last “Fun with Science” day with the Irbid Youth Volunteers. We were expecting around 25 kids but were excited to welcome nearly twice that number!

We kept the kids pretty engaged throughout whole 3 hour session by rotating stations


Modeling the lifecycle of a butterfly with pasta


Exploring the concept of flotation & displacement with clay boats


Measuring and cutting straws to make panpipes

The Scientific Culture Society team!

The Scientific Culture Society team!

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Visit to Za’atari Refugee Camp

Last week, after filling out an official UN request for travel, getting my boss and his boss to sign a travel schedule, and submitting a copy of my passport to Questscope, I finally was able to accompany Questscope on a site visit to the informal education and mentoring sessions in Za’atari refugee camp. The Za’atari refugee camp is now the second largest in the world hosting 160,000 refugees, and is located outside of Mafraq, a small town near the Syrian border in northern Jordan. Jordanian towns are also hosting a lot of refugees, and Mafraq’s population is now made up of more Syrians than Jordanians.

After just about an hour and a half in the car with two of Questscope’s program coordinators, Tawfiq and Dana, we were at the first checkpoint into the camp. Tawfiq and Dana come to the camp on nearly a daily basis throughout the week to monitor the ongoing programs, so we were waved right in without so much as a peek at me and my papers in the backseat.

I peppered patient Tawfiq and Dana with questions as we drove from the first checkpoint, through the front entrance, down a paved road and then eventually through a gravel field until we entered Questscope’s gated compound:

Yes, IFE and Mentoring sessions are still ongoing throughout the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, although sessions are shortened and attendance isn’t quite at 100%.

No, people who are fleeing Syria but are not Syrian (i.e. Palestinians) are not allowed into Za’atari, so all facilitators, students, mentors, and mentees are Syrian.

The reason why no one is playing in that “child friendly” piece of land is because the area is totally exposed to the beating sun and families are afraid to let their children play unguarded.

Tawfiq and Dana got on with their work while I observed an informal education session with 16 girls and three facilitators. Because there is no transportation within the very large expanse of the camp, all of the girls live within walking distance from the Questscope compound. I had the opportunity to have an extended conversation with the facilitator: she was a teacher back home in Syria, but was forced to flee, leaving her husband and son behind. She hasn’t received news from them since.

Leaving the camp, we sat in traffic for quite some time: apparently the road had been blocked by Jordanians protesting the Syrian crisis. Especially in Mafraq where the Syrian to Jordanian ratio is so high, tension has been building as unemployment rates and housing & food costs rise.

I took some simple video of the camp while I was there: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LkvvkCJFAio

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Keeping busy around Jordan

Since my last blog post, I have been keeping busy all day at the office and there always seems to be some event or activity after work. I have not had much downtime since I moved into my new apartment, located in the neighborhood called Jebel el Weibdeh.

I have observed five Non-Formal (NFE) and three Informal (IFE) education centers, and am conducting informal interviews with facilitators, Questscope staff, and students. Most students in the NFE program are Jordanian: the program follows a set curriculum and students eventually take an exam that, if passed, will give them 10th grade equivalency. The vast majority of students enrolled in the IFE program, however, are Syrians. The IFE sessions don’t follow a set curriculum, and don’t offer any type of accreditation. Its value lies in its ability to provide children with the opportunity to get out of house (girls especially are often confined to the home), make friends, engage in structured activities, and regain some sense of normalcy with a schedule and routine.

I’ve been able to see a lot of East Amman and cities in the north through these visits, including Mafraq, Irbid, and Ramtha. (The IFE site in Ramtha was just a mile or two from the Syrian border). This Thursday, if all goes smoothly, I will be observing an IFE session and speaking with young adults and children involved in Questscope’s mentoring program in the Za’atari refugee camp, situated just outside of Mafraq.


Outside of work, I’ve been meeting up with friends:


Hamza, Arez, Me, and Amanda: We all met last April at the AMENDS conference at Stanford, and were able to catch up over Jordanian kofta (ground beef with tahini sauce) and salads downtown Amman.

Going to festivals and concerts:


I saw traditional Circassian dancing AND Nancy Ajram at the Jerash festival.

Exploring the outdoors:


Danice and I at the Dead Sea after doing a river hike in the Wadi Mujib gorge

And doing a little solo tourism:


At Mt. Nebo, where apparently Moses looked upon the promised land, then died. He is buried up there somewhere.

Tomorrow begins Ramadan here in Jordan. I’ve been convinced by my co-workers to give fasting a try, at least for a few days, so I’m giving it a shot, for solidarity’s sake.

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Non-formal Education training for Ministry of Education liaisons

An interesting work-filled Friday at the Ministry of Education’s training for a group of 18 liaisons who will be overseeing the 49 Non-formal Education centers across Jordan. Today was spent editing the program’s formal guidelines, discussing the challenges the program currently faces, reviewing the responsibilities and tasks of each stakeholder, and of course, lunch and plenty of coffee breaks. Tomorrow wraps up the weekend-long workshop.


The Minster of Education opened the training with a few words.



Liaisons participate in a Gallery Walk activity

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