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.

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

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Liaisons participate in a Gallery Walk activity

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Jordanian Circassians

Jordanians of Circassian orgin make up about 2% of the population here, including my friend Hamza and his family. (Hamza is half Circassian, half Chechnyan.)

Laura, Hamza and Sarah enjoy a Chechen breakfast.

Laura, Hamza and Sarah enjoy a Chechen breakfast.

I arrived in Amman completely and shamefully ignorant of Circassian history and culture in the region. I had heard of Chechnya and could point out its general location on a map, but had never heard of Circassia. Since my best Jordanian friend is Circassian and his family is very involved in the Circassian community here in Amman, I thought it fitting to pass on a little of what I’ve learned so far.

Circassian flag. I've seen the three arrow symbol around town as bumper stickers & patches.

Circassian flag. I’ve seen the three arrow symbol around town as bumper stickers & patches.

Circassians are an ethic group from the North Caucasus and are predominately Muslim. After the region was conquered by Russia, persecution and genocide ensued and many Circassians moved down into the Ottoman Empire. Circassians settled in Amman and in surrounding areas in the 1870’s, way before Jordan became an independent state in 1946. Today, Circassian populations can be found in Wadi Seer, Jerash, Sweileh, Zarqa, and other towns in the north.

From what I’ve experienced so far, the Circassians in Jordan have a strong commitment to retaining their cultural heritage, yet are very much Jordanian and are quite involved in all aspects of Jordanian society, including politics. They are reserved 3 seats in the 150-seat lower Parliamentary quota system, and make up the royal guard.

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Trash pickup and tree planting in Amman

I’ve been pleasantly surprised to experience a spirit of volunteerism here in Jordan. Last weekend after a tasty juice of lemon and mint on Rainbow Street, I was so surprised to see a large group of kids in orange vests carrying trash bags, I had to take a picture of it.

Volunteers picking up trash along Rainbow Street

Volunteers picking up trash along Rainbow Street

Lillie, an friend who was in Morocco with me noticed this picture and said she would have had a heart attack if she saw volunteer kids picking up trash in Fez. I tried to explain this to my new American friend here in Jordan when he asked me why I thought the volunteers were photoworthy: I just never experienced much of a motivation for community involvement and volunteerism in Morocco, and was happy to see it alive and well here in Amman.

This Saturday I got to do a little volunteering myself. I went with Hamza, his friends, and nearly 100 other young Jordanian volunteers to plant 1,000 trees north of Amman with volunteers from the Ministry of Agriculture.

The initiative is to plant 10,000 total trees this year.

The initiative is to plant 10,000 total trees this year.

Only 0.9% of Jordan is covered with forest, and has big problems with deforestation and desertification.

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I planted around 20 trees with Ziad, a volunteer with the Ministry of Agriculture who also works as a night guard in Amman. He has invited me to his house next weekend for a meal of mansaf with his family: a traditional Jordanian dish made with lamb and rice!

Laura and Ziad, combating deforestation one tree at a time.

Laura and Ziad, combating deforestation one tree at a time.

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Nonformal Education Site Visits: round one

This week I escaped the office and traveled out to the lower-income neighborhoods of East Amman, a world away from the shiny high rises of West Amman, to visit three nonformal education centers with Questscope program coordinators.

In Jordan, if a student has dropped out of the formal education system for three or more years, he or she cannot re-enroll. This nonformal education program allows dropout students to earn their 10th grade equivalency, and then go on to either vocational school or sit for the tawjihi exams (passing the tawjihi is like earning a high school diploma in the US)

The nonformal education sessions are held after regular school hours in classrooms at public schools, and vary considerably in terms of attendance, teaching style, student level, even availability of resources. For example, at one center, four Jordanian girls were learning specifics of Arab grammar by working quietly on worksheets provided to them by their facilitator. At another, 20 boys (eight of them Syrian refugees), crammed around three round tables in a sparse classroom and learned about shapes.

All facilitators are supposed to be utilizing student-centered learning in the sessions; that is, students are supposed to actively involved in their own learning process. Teachers should facilitate and guide students during this process. A challenging model to be sure, and one that the three centers haven’t yet adopted. The need for more training has been mentioned to me by all facilitators and program coordinators.

My language skills aren’t nearly where they need to be to engage in any real conversations with students yet, although for the most part they patiently wait as I stutter out my sentences. The effort seems to count for something, anyway. My Moroccan accent has been noted more than once: which I kind of love but am also surprised by… I didn’t think anyone would notice since I’ve cut out the Morocco-specific vocabulary. In the evenings I’ve been working out of a Peace Corp language manual on the Jordanian dialect, and come Ramadan I’ll enroll evening classes at a local language school. For most in-depth conversations during the site visits, Rasha, a Questscope staff member, has acted as a translator. She has been extremely kind, but I’m looking forward to not having to rely so much on her.

Posted in International Educational Development Program at UPenn, 2012-2013 | 1 Comment

Overview of my work at UNESCO

It is Thursday, the end of the work week here in Amman, Jordan. I have been in the country eight days and have finished a full week here around the office. The UNESCO office is located right next to the University of Jordan and houses not only UNESCO offices but also the UNDP and UNFPA as well. I think I expected to jump right into work as soon as I arrived, so it took a few days to adjust my attitude and expectations to the slower pace of the office.

UNESCO Amman

On the first day I was introduced to most of the staff. The Education sector of UNESCO – Amman is small: one program director, one assistant officer, a volunteer and me. By mid-July, however, the office should be growing as three more program directors will be hired to begin working on the non-formal and informal education programs for Syrian refugees in Jordan, funded by a big grant from the EU.

By the end of my second day I received a laptop, was set up with an UNESCO email, and met with the program director to discuss my work plan in more detail. I will be conducting an implementation and impact evaluation on the non-formal education program that UNESCO funded in 2011-2012 in a small Bedouin community called Umm Sayhoun near Petra with staff members from Questscope, a partner organization. From what I’ve read, it is common for many of the kids from that community to work in the tourist trade related to Petra during normal school hours. The actual program was designed and implemented by Questscope. The organization got its start in 1988 providing non-formal education for dropouts and incarcerated kids in Jordan.

The nonformal education programs have also been implemented in various urban centers throughout Amman and seven other cities throughout the country. With the grant money from the EU, Questscope and UNESCO will be redoubling their efforts at these centers and establishing more centers to address the increasing need.

The second half of this week I sifted through various updates and reports sitting around here in the UNESCO office to familiarize myself with the project and to prepare for my first meeting with the staff at Questscope, which was yesterday. There, I met with the country director, the NFE project manager, and the education specialist. I learned more about the details of the nonformal education program, which is based on a Frierean, student-centered methodology, the basic structure of the program, the challenges currently facing the program in Umm Sayhoun, and how they are moving forward in expanding the project to more centers around the country to provide services to more out of school Syrian and Jordanian youths. I will be visiting and observing a number of the nonformal education centers around Amman in addition to the center in Umm Sayhoun.

As I understand it, the NFE programs are a partnership between Questscope and the Ministry of Education, funded by UNESCO. UNESCO received a grant in 2011 to provide nonformal education to kids in the Umm Sayhoun project, but once the grant was done in August 2012, the Ministry of Education took over funding the project, but at much lower levels, and the program got put on the back burner. This year, only 4 girls and 10 boys participated in the NFE program at Umm Sayhoun, compared to 40 boys and 40 girls as participants during the 2011-2012 year. Thanks to the big EU grant, the program is full steam ahead for the 2013-2014 year.

Next weekend I will be attending the training sessions for the people who serve as liaisons between the Ministry of Education and the facilitators of the NFE centers. The Questscope team mentioned the liaisons as the biggest challenge to the NFE program: they are generally have no training related to nonformal education, do not see the value in a methodology based on Frierean principles, and do not respect or know about the various roles the program facilitators play. It will be a great way for me to get trained on the program too, and it will be held in Aqaba, on the Red Sea!

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Around Amman

Hamza has been such a kind host and has provided me with a great first introduction to Amman. I’ve already seen a lot of this gigantic city, considering that I’ve been here less than a week.

Over the weekend, I went on a bike ride out to the city of Madaba. Unfortunately, we didn’t quite make it into the city, where there are Byzantine mosaics, including a 6th century mosaic map of Jerusalem. We did bike through the countryside, dry and flat, occasionally passing a field of olive trees or wheat. I enjoyed spending time with Hamza, his brother and sister, his uncle Majdi and Majdi’s Uzbek girlfriend, Oxana. Check out my flickr account (link in the sidebar) for more pictures.

Bike ride from Amman to Madaba

I’ve had a family meal at Hamza’s grandma’s house, where I met some of his extended family, including his great grandmother! We’ve been downtown for grilled meats, to the Citadel to view ruins from as far back as the Bronze Age (2000 BC!) and to a trendy part of town called Jebel Weibdeh for Jordanian wine. Hamza and his friends touted it as quite tasty, but to me, it tasted like nailpolish remover. The bar was fun and relaxed, though, and it was novel to be drinking in a majority Muslim country. There I met Hamza’s lovely friends and learned that they’re boardgame enthusiasts, so I forsee spirited game nights at my place in the future.

I even spent some time at a gay cafe that doubles as a bookshop that sells a great selection of English-language novels and a true love of mine: Arabic-language translations of Young Adult novels. I was surprised to learn that although homosexuality is really frowned upon here (although not technically illegal), there is a not-so-underground gay culture in Amman.

It is no joke when people say that only Moroccans understand Moroccan Arabic. Yesterday I took a bus from the UNESCO office to Hamza’s house, and automatically asked how much a spot cost in my Moroccan dialect, only to be met with a blank stare. It took me a few seconds to translate that into Modern Standard Arabic, and then again into what I thought could be understood as Jordanian Arabic. In the end, though, the message was communicated. In any case, I’ve found that when in a pinch, it is easier and at times more effective to substitute a word I don’t know in Jordanian Arabic with the English word, rather than the word in Modern Standard Arabic.

I’ve started my internship but getting things moving has been a really slow process. I do have a laptop now, an ID badge on the way, an email address and a trickle of work to do. I think I’ll save the update on the internship for a few days down the road as things settle into place.

Posted in Boren Fellowship in Jordan, 2013-2014, International Educational Development Program at UPenn, 2012-2013 | Leave a comment

First day in Jordan

Yesterday I flew into Jordan in the low light of dusk. Outside the city lights of Amman the countryside is dry and barren, the cracked land looking like networks of veins from the plane’s window.

I waited in the hell that is currency exchange and passport check after my flight arrived about 30 minutes late. I bought my visa for 20 Jordanian Dinars (about $30) and headed downstairs to collect my stuffed bag. Hamza was waiting for me right at the arrival area. I cannot express how comforting it was to see a friendly familiar face searching the crowd for mine. He grabbed my bag and we were off to his apartment that he shares with his brother and sister. For dinner, his sister made us pancakes. The apartment is spacious and comfortable, and I got a good night’s sleep before heading to the UNESCO office this morning.

I got introduced around the office and promptly forgot almost everyone’s names. I suppose I didn’t even really need to come in today. The IT guy will set up my computer after the weekend (Friday and Saturday in Jordan), they’re working on getting me an ID badge, I’ll (hopefully) have something to do on Sunday. Now its off to take care of one of life’s great necessities: I need a phone.

Posted in International Educational Development Program at UPenn, 2012-2013 | 2 Comments