Over Spring Break, I traveled to Jordan with a group of Arabic students to immerse ourselves in the culture and to learn about the issues with water scarcity that the country faces. We spent a couple of days in the Sharhabil Bin Hassneh EcoPark, which was created by FoME, where we learned about the region. The EcoPark aims to highlight the importance of preserving ecological habitats in the Jordan River Valley, increase public awareness in local and international communities, as well as promote sustainable development efforts locally. At the EcoPark, we learned about the different sustainable projects they have, including fashioning seating out of used tires and mud. We also lent a hand by filling used soda bottles with sand to help them build a bird-hut.
As well as practicing our Arabic, FoMe helped us understand the region’s water issues, highlighted the following day when we went to visit the Yarmuk River. Overlooking a cliff, we saw how the contrast between the level the river used to be at and now is. We learned that this was due to political complications, between Syria, Israel and Palestine.
FoME also taught us about their efforts to prevent the Red-Dead Canal, a proposed solution to the Dead Sea’s shrinkage, where Red Sea water would be brought from the Gulf of Aqaba up to the Dead Sea where it would be desalinated and provide drinking water for the surrounding areas as well as fill the Dead Sea. FoMe taught us how all the economic and environmental downfalls to this proposed canal through role-play and many discussions. We then visited the Dead Sea, where we went to a museum and were struck by images showing the decrease in water level over time. We learned that the Dead Sea shrinks by 1 meter a year, as well as seeing the direct effects of this shrinkage in sinkholes.
Going to Jordan was eyeopening in many ways. Not only were we exposed to culture, but we also learned about water scarcity issues in Jordan and how it affects the surrounding people. Working with FoME was very interesting as they have many local employees, including Bedouins, which not only provides employment but also creates lasting local interest in environmental conservation, which is very important. FoME taught us the importance of persistence when dealing with environmental issues that are closely tied with politics. I really enjoyed learning about Jordan’s ecosystem and the emergence and progression of the water scarcity.
For two weeks over the summer, I worked to assist a community in a rural village in Tanzania on community initiated projects. Specifically, I helped to refurbish classrooms at a school and helped to connect a school that previously not possessed access to running water, with a local water supply system. We spent a week digging through fields and creating a trench to put a water pipe in place, to connect the school to a local water line. Connecting this school where about 400 students attend each day to the local water supply had been a project that this specific village had been working on for the past five years. However, the villagers could only work on this project in their free time. The exciting thing about our project was that our group of National Geographic student volunteers determination to connect this water line to the school, ignited the determination of many community members as well. Each day, farmers would leave their work to join us. By the end of our two weeks, several of the older school children, and even the school principle came to help us finish the job.
What really felt rewarding to me about this project was that we helped a community come together to improve their own school.
This past March I got the chance to spend a weekend working with Project Cicero. The aim of the project is to collect books over the course of the year and distribute them in one hectic weekend to all of the teachers from underfunded schools to give their classes all the opportunities they deserve. The project takes place in the gold ballroom of the Pennsylvania hotel in midtown Manhattan, a much more elegant space then you might expect for a service event but it really did seem fitting when the event got up and running and student and teachers alike were hopping all round the ballroom picking up and moving books wherever they were needed. Upon first walking into the ballroom on Friday I was greeted with a space so full of boxes there was barely room for the volunteers to maneuver around the brown cardboard towers. Our job was to take the mixed boxes and sort all of books into the various the receptacles to which they belonged at each corner of the room. Categories were topical, such as for science or history and also by the expected age of the readers. Admittedly even for someone who is unfazed by the midtown crowd on the streets just outside that hotel, the crowd of volunteers running from station to station throwing books wherever they belonged was a bit overwhelming. Soon enough though I was up to speed and was running around like the best of them racing against myself to put the books exactly where they belonged. The librarians who helped to run the event where never far if one had a question about the categorization of some vague books and were very kind to all the volunteers.
I returned to Project Cicero both Saturday and Sunday and it was then that things really heated up and we got to see the fruits of our labor. On those two last days of the event we continued to sort the books but this time into place for the hordes of teachers rushing about to get their students the very best books that they could find. Even though the books weren’t for them the faces of the teachers as they left the room, nearly covered by the pile of books in their arms, were so happy that I couldn’t help but get infected with all of the good feelings washing over that room. I left project cicero with a felling that I sadly don’t always get from my community service opporunities. I felt that I had truly gotten the chance to work hard to get something done and that I had had a direct effect in helping someone else. I would recommend that anyone who can deal with a little bit of stress and a crowded room get out and help at Project Cicero next year.
This summer I volunteered at the King Hussein and Noor Al Hussein Foundation in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan (KHNHF). During my tenure, I worked with two of the seven institutions of the KHNHF, the Community Development Program (CDP) and the Institute for Family Health (IFH). I accompanied staff on their visits, provided logistic support and assisted trainers during the capacity building workshops and awareness campaigns.
I aided staff during their trip to Northern Ghour, which was part of the Poverty Pockets Empowerment Program of the CDP. The goal of the program is to provide the impoverished with means by which they may elevate their economic status. Mainly, the program connects them with a network of employers and aids them in the process of constructing a CV. With the rest of my time, I assisted the IFH staff during the World Population Day that was held in cooperation with the UNFPA for Syrian Refugees at the IFH locations in Sweileh, Amman, Jordan. I also had the opportunity to file, document and edit reports related to the project of promoting gender based violence (GBV) awareness and providing services to respond to GBV needs among Syrian Refugees, specifically women and girls.
Working with the refugees broadened my perspective with regards to the Syrian conflict. It was definitely more stirring to hear first hand accounts, than it had been to read articles while on a different continent. Also, while it was nice to see that the foundation I had volunteered with was taking active steps to aid the refugees, the institution itself was in shambles. I realized after my stay the importance of donations, even though one does not see a direct impact, the smallest of contributions really goes a long way. In all, I had a wonderful time, and managed to lend a helping hand to those in need.