Photo: Yasmeen Shahzadeh, 2019

August 12 is International Youth Day: a celebration and recognition of the agency and role youth have in the in the world today, and the opportunities they possess in driving change for the future. The theme for this year’s International Youth Day is “Transforming Education”. Aligned with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, as well as the Sustainable Development Goals, this year’s theme aims to address the importance of quality education in youth development, and the role of youth-led organizations and youth initiatives, in cooperation with governments and non-governmental bodies, in creating inclusive and accessible education.

In Amman, youth are already demonstrating the role they can play in transforming education.

The focus of my research placement with LERRN in Amman, the capital of Jordan, examines the trajectories of youth, both locals and refugees, from education to employment and aims to analyze the youth agency and their ability to make a change through their activism and voicing out of their rights. The research aims to give voice to the challenges of youth (both locals and refugees) in the context of the protracted refugee situation, to inform policy and the kinds of future interventions necessary in education, employment, and beyond.

This work prioritizes working closely with youth and the initiatives by youth, so my research has included a mapping exercise of local groups working with youth, for youth, or by youth. Unsurprisingly, there is no shortage of youth-led initiatives, start-ups, and organizations that create more accessible, diverse, and higher quality education for all students, regardless of their age, background, ability, gender, and more.

To celebrate International Youth Day and the theme of transforming education, here are some examples of these initiatives and the amazing work work they do in Jordan.

Wasel for Awareness & Education is a non-governmental organization in Jordan aiming to bridge gaps between youth across Amman and Jordan to create a “civically engaged, aware, diverse, and accepting generation of youth.” One of their programs, called Shabbek Wa Badder (connect and initiate), focuses on partnering geographically and socio-economically different schools and their students to teach them entrepreneurship skills to launch their own initiatives. Another program on citizenship engages students in dialogue on national visions and strategies, human rights, and Jordanian laws, to inspire students to write and present policy papers on topics they are passionate about. Almost one thousand youth from across the Kingdom have benefited from these programs and have been able to gain entrepreneurial and leadership skills that the initiative hopes will allow them to become more engaged politically, socially, and economically for a stronger future in the country.

Ibtaker Go (or Innovate Go) is a youth initiative created by a Syrian refugee in Jordan. The initiative aims to deliver workshops to youth on innovation and entrepreneurship using technology, to enable them to establish themselves, establish their own sustainable projects, and improve the livelihoods of their local communities. More than 450 students from all backgrounds have participated in workshops led by youth for youth. Following the mission of his own initiative, the founder is currently developing a second project called Martha EDU, an app for deaf children, aiming to increase their literacy skills and provide accessible education.

Hikaya Center for Civil Society Development is another youth-led organization. Since its inception in 2007 and registration in 2013 as a non-profit organization, Hikaya has focused on education through media training, leadership and management skills, and capacity building for youth. Hikaya Center runs several programs for local and refugee youth across the Kingdom, including a pioneering radio station as an open cultural platform for youth to learn, share, and feel empowered. Notably, Hikaya Center runs a mentorship and training program with at-risk youth to re-engage them with their community and allow them to learn skills such as photography and graphic design.

Local youth have responded within Amman not only in initiatives but also in spaces and centers that serve their education and networking purposes. There are several such spaces, including Shams Community, Liwan, and Jadal for Knowledge and Culture, and countless others.

Shams Community started in 2011 working on community-based solutions to social problems. In 2016, the group opened a space for its activities in Amman, and now hosts regular conversation sessions and workshops. These sessions bring youth of all backgrounds together for meaningful dialogue to discuss a specific topic, and brainstorm solutions or approaches to raise awareness.

Liwan Youth Space is an open center intended to be a safe space for community development, collaboration, innovation, and entrepreneurship. The space was founded on the basis of collaboration and participatory action. The space serves as room for opportunities for youth, networking, and support for initiatives. Anyone is allowed to make use of the space in exchange for a contribution: for example, youth can contribute in volunteering hours, in-kind donations, or financial support. The space regularly hosts initiatives, organizations, and individuals interested in providing workshops or trainings on various skills, ranging from Photoshop to project design and even to programming.

Jadal for Knowledge and Culture is a non-profit initiative for youth. Started in 2012, the initiative creates a space for youth to gather to discuss values, innovations, culture, and more. The center in the heart of Amman has study and café spaces, but also hosts workshops, art galleries, conversation circles (called Jadal Saloons), and more. Youth are able to attend many workshops free of charge (or at accessible prices), and can attend saloons to share information or learn more about a variety of topics every week.

Many education initiatives and organizations in Jordan focus on entrepreneurship and youth empowerment. Equipping youth with the skills they need to drive sustainable change for the future is important, especially in light of the challenges youth experience in Jordan such as rising unemployment, rising costs of living, and socio-political instability. Youth in Jordan from all backgrounds are attempting to work together to create spaces and initiatives where they can learn, teach, and improve themselves and their communities.

Despite this, unemployment continues to rise and youth continue to struggle socio-economically. Setting up youth initiatives and organizations comes at a high price, and with heavy government bureaucracy, many youth are deterred from this route. Wider outreach and understanding of public participation and community engagement is lacking.

In Amman, youth are redefining traditional education by creating new avenues for learning in new and non-conventional ways. On this International Youth Day, and every day, we should celebrate, facilitate, and amplify the accomplishments led by youth in driving change through dialogue, advocacy, networking, teaching, and beyond.

Yasmeen Shahzadeh is a graduate student at McGill University, Montreal. She is one of seven Canadian graduate students currently undertaking research placements with LERRN partners in the Middle East and East Africa, with the support of funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC).