One of the countless advantages of youth is the eyes it bequeaths to the young with which they envision their futures. Hopeful and optimistic, fixed on a great unknown so full of potential waiting to be unfolded like a big mystery package with thousand color ribbons. Do you remember that rush of excitement as you imagined what your life would be five years after graduation? I recall as we waited for our order at a restaurant opposite the University of Jordan campus right before the lockdown, I gazed at the soon-to-be graduates, wondering what they must be thinking, how they must be feeling as they were about to enter a job market that had more than its fair share of burdens.
THE PANDEMIC MAY HAVE LEFT DEEP SCARS ON JORDAN’S UNEMPLOYMENT AND AMPLIFIED EXISTING VULNERABILITIES, increasing the unemployment rate to 24.8% in Q2-2021 from 19% before the pandemic hit, half of the youth between 16–25 is unemployed reported the Jordan Economic Monitor, En Route to Recovery, Fall 2021. But that’s not the whole story.
Jordan experienced one of the highest population growth rates in the past decade, owing to a massive wave of migrants and refugees. In its most recent history, Jordan stood once again with arms wide open to those seeking refuge in its safety and political stability. Jordan hosts the second-highest number of refugees per capita globally, 3.6 million refugees of various nationalities, a third of its population. This is the equivalent of having nearly 109.4 million refugees living in the United States. “There is a legitimate concern amongst Jordanians that life has become very hard,” His Majesty King Abdullah II told Fareed Zakaria on GPS June last year on the topic of how he sees the future of over a million Syrian refugees now living in his country. Therefore, it is not surprising that many Jordanians dream of a job opportunity regionally to catapult them into better economic conditions. You are most likely to have many interesting conversations with Uber drivers whose strength of resolve has not been fatigued by circumstance. The once hopeful accounting graduate who’s been looking for a job for a couple of years and counting, the FMCG sales professional whose past employers only hand-picked the most diligent until company-wide job cuts claimed his own, and the masters’ students doing night classes for the love of bettering themselves until their opportunities arrive. The total number of expatriate Jordanians overseas was estimated by UN/DESA in 2017 at 745,000. The UAE and KSA are reported to host 60% of all Jordanian migrants, approximately 450,000.
Some curse circumstances, as they believed a degree would offer a form of security against joblessness. That is no longer the case as skills and flexible mental attitudes prove more resilient in economic hardships. And then some get to work in support of their communities. This is a story about two cousins who established the Distinguished Team of Volunteers, a volunteering program operating in Jordan since 2018. They believe each member of a community bears a responsibility towards the other.
Mr. Naji Jameel Sulaiman (Abu Jameel), Founder and Team Leader, and Mrs. May Saeed Awad used to secretly contribute various acts of charity. They decided to distribute half of their wages to poverty-stricken families during the lockdown, using their company passes to distribute the funds door-to-door. That was the first time they came to any knowledge of the other’s inclinations. When Abu Jameel received his next salary, he decided to donate all of it. Abu Jameel later represented his Area of Hay Nazzal at Al Husseiniya Palace along with representatives of other programs from around the Kingdom, where His Majesty thanked them for their efforts, as he closely follows volunteering initiatives.
Their dream of helping more people then grew into a program that caters to the needs of approximately 300 registered families and runs about 65 initiatives per year. This involves the distribution of food packages and clothing, maintaining public schools’ initiatives on meager budgets; Bayt Al Maqdes, Al Jabal Al Akhdar, Zeid Ibn Al Harith, and Abdallah Sarraj public schools. Blood drives, matching people with jobs, and running and organizing awareness campaigns. You may wonder what makes them special. There are three reasons why I chose to share their story. The first is that they are as efficient as a beehive. Efficiency in charity and volunteer work is critical to ensuring help gets to the right people at the right time.
This was my experience with them… I approached Mrs. Awad in February to assist us in organizing the third part of a study involving 8Se7en‘s Feminine Hygiene product developed with Hadayana, and low-income households in urban areas. The first two parts of the study included female refugees at Azraq and Zaatari camps. From my experience coordinating it through various entities since September 2021, I expected preparation to take weeks. I spoke to Mrs. Awad on a Monday, followed by an email with the objectives and methodology; Thursday of the same week, she called me: “I apologize I didn’t get back to you sooner, but I’ve organized a group of 60 women, buses to collect them and their children, a hall since we don’t have our own, an event and activities for the kids to keep them busy while the mothers are with you in the session, attendants to oversee the safety of the kids and food for everyone. We’re ready for Saturday. We look forward to seeing you then”. For our end-line survey in April, she coordinated it between 0800pm and 0300am on account of their heavy schedule in Ramadan. I found in them likeminded people who attributed mutual value to time which is not to be squandered but to be fully utilized.
The second is their transparency; when they organize food or clothing distribution, they invite a donor representative to be present at the allotment.
Third and most importantly, out of their around 44 volunteers ages mostly between 14 – 21, these include 8 families: the mothers (late 40’s to early 50’s), 3 or 4 children, and sometimes the fathers. The average income per month per family is between US$400 to US$600. Theirs are not lives of comforts. This presents challenges as well as opportunities.
Starting with the challenges, those in volunteering management appreciate the difficulties in bringing people together to achieve their mission and goals and perform to the level necessary. These include the recruitment and onboarding of enthused volunteers, providing inspirational leadership, keeping volunteers active, motivated, and engaged in the long-term, building and maintaining relationships within the team and the wider community, and ensuring that the volunteers make themselves available to initiatives as and when needed and that they perform tasks to the level required as these are untrained resources. In the example of school maintenance, none of them are professional painters, electricians, carpenters or plumbers . Moreover, the Distinguished Team of Volunteers is predominantly self-funded. One of the members shared his experience of repairing a house for a refugee family after a fire; many of them chipped in to buy paint, white goods, and necessities to complete the project.
As for the opportunities, while most youth and adolescents spend a lot of their time on social media and may even complain of boredom, these young people spend their time with their brothers, sisters, and mothers in community service, which develops their characters, self-esteem, and constructive mental attitudes. They learn new skills, how to problem solve, and take accountability for their environment and others. They form an appreciation for work that is satisfying to their souls in which they can find meaning. In parenting their children, the mothers feel supported by a small community; team leadership and members provide worthy role models to look up to; they contribute free intensive Physics and English tuition and encourage the young adults to initiate their own projects. They introduce them to organizations that would help them explore their potential and potentially fund their ideas. In essence, they provide a script for them to follow, and there is no script that we observe more closely than what we believe of ourselves. We need to experience ourselves as generous, kind, creative, capable, skillful, and brave to believe that we are so, thus perpetuating more of those behaviors. They grow up to believe that they are not at all helpless but are powerful when they confront the challenges presented by their environments and take the right actions.
This program is a shining example of devoted, organized service in the genuine Jordanian spirit of community and solidarity.