Ahlan wa sahlan! Greetings from Amman

By Elizabeth Solem | Amman, Jordan

Hello and welcome to the 2017 GW UNESCO Fellows Blog! I am excited to share about my fellowship with UNESCO Amman and my experiences living in Jordan this summer.

New Chapter: Life in Amman. After celebrating graduation with friends, family, and colleagues in late May, I flew to Jordan to begin my fellowship with the UNESCO Amman Education Sector. I arrived in Jordan at an exciting time, the week of Independence Day and the start of Ramadan. Jordan celebrated its independence from Britain in 1946 on May 25, establishing the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Jordan is a constitutional monarchy with a monarch that exercises wide executive powers. Offices of the government and most organizations and businesses close for Independence Day, but restaurants, cafes, and shops remain open.

Independence Day in Paris Square
Jordanians young and old celebrating Independence Day

In the evening, the streets were bursting with celebration—cars driving by with Jordanian flags flying, blasting Jordanian and Bedouin (nomadic peoples of the deserts of Jordan and surrounding countries) music, and occasionally some got out of their cars to dance in the streets. I was lucky to meet friends in a public square for a concert and dance party.


The next day marked the first day of Ramadan. The vast majority of Jordanians identifies as Muslim (92%) with a small minority of Christians. During the holy month, Muslims refrain from eating, drinking, and smoking from early morning to sunset. As such, most restaurants, cafes, and bars are closed during the day and open in the evening.

Ramadan lights
Ramadan lights illuminate my apartment’s walkway

Those who are not observing Ramadan are careful to not eat, drink, or smoke in public or around those who are fasting. After the sun sets, those observing Ramadan break their fast with a large meal (iftar). The city comes alive after iftar as friends and families gather in cafes for coffee and shisha or visit pastry shops and ice cream shops for dessert. Many in Amman stay out well into the early morning hours, both during the week and on the weekend. As a naturally nocturnal person, my internal clock had no problem adjusting to this late-night Ramadan schedule. This weekend, the month of Ramadan concludes with Eid al-Fitr, a holiday of feasting and celebrating with family and friends. This is an amazing time to settle into Amman life!

Jordan: A Safe Haven for Many. During this time of celebration and charity, I am reminded of the many people in Jordan seeking refuge from war and hardship. Much of the international news coverage about Jordan focuses on its large population of refugees from neighboring Syria. Yet, for generations, Jordan has been a safe haven for many communities from countries in the region, from the Circassians, Chechens, and Armenians who fled violence during the turn of the last century, to the Palestinian refugees began seeking refuge in 1948, to the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Syrians who arrived over the last 15 years. Today, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) supports the more than 2.1 million registered Palestinian refugees in Jordan, and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) supports over 660,000 Syrian and 63,000 Iraqi registered refugees. For a country of 9.5 million people facing a slowing economy and strains on its infrastructure and social services, this is a critical time to find ways to support the country’s host population and its refugees.

UNESCO’s Response to the Syrian Refugee Crisis.  UNESCO is one of 16 United Nations agencies operating in Jordan, many of which focus their work on the sizable refugee population. As I dove into my work with UNESCO, I learned that our objectives address the education needs of refugee and Jordanian learners alike. In a collaborative regional plan with UNESCO in Lebanon and Iraq, the Amman office carries out work on education access, quality, and system strengthening.

In terms of access, UNESCO Amman is launching an online platform for Syrian refugees and vulnerable Jordanians to apply for scholarships and enroll in free online courses for higher education and TVET (technical vocational education and training) programs. This website will support youth learners to continue their education, an age group that is often overlooked in education in emergencies programming. For quality, the Blended Approach to Teacher Training (BATT) provides online and in-person training modules for secondary teachers on psychosocial support, pedagogy, and teaching math and science. The system strengthening component of our work is woven into much of our programming. UNESCO is working closely with the Ministry of Education and key stakeholders to develop an all-encompassing five-year education strategic plan, incorporating recent mandates and national development plans. UNESCO Amman also supports the Ministry of Education’s management information system (OpenEMIS) to collect and utilize education data points across the country to inform decision-making.

The UNESCO Amman office

My Education Sector team has quickly included me in several ongoing projects related to these three areas. Over the last three weeks, I have worked closely with colleagues to conceptualize, budget, and review three proposals for new funding, attended meetings on quality service delivery with the Ministry of Education and the World Bank, and provided user feedback for the higher education/TVET website. This week, we concluded a set of workshops crafting an education strategy with the Ministry of Education.

Life is moving fast in Amman! I look forward to sharing updates on my work and experiences as time goes on.


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