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Middle East

Water wise girls

by Anna Marquardt, Aharon Weiß

In depth

Hotaf Yassien IWRM student, right with members of the school club

Hotaf Yassien IWRM student, right with members of the school club

An environmental club is raising awareness at a school in Northern Jordan. Its activities were supported by a team of university students, two of whom report their experiences here. [ By Anna Marquardt and Aharon Weiss ]

The school bell is ringing. Some 600 students of the girls´ school in Ajloun in Northern Jordan are eager to go home, but not Rana, Waa´d, Eklas and Eman. They are waiting for their teacher Nihad Ghalib Al-Smadi to meet for their weekly environmental club. On top of their formal curriculum, seven young ladies aged 13 to 15 meet once a week to discuss environmental topics.

In general, environmental education does not play a significant role in Jordanian schools, although this country is facing huge environmental challenges. In par­ticular, the water situation is tense. Water-related problems will become worse because the population is growing fast. According to the UNESCO and its UN World Water Development Report 2009, Jordan has one of the world´s lowest per capita water levels. High demand, poor and inadequate management as well as tensions with neighbouring countries are exacerbating matters. Jordan could be one of the first countries to literally run out of water.

The members of the school club are aware of these issues. But the tough facts do not frustrate the young people. Rather, they feel a proactive responsibility. The girls are keen to use the knowledge they gain in lively discussions, and they are happy to apply any skills they are taught.

Results are visible in Ajloun. Last year, the young environmentalists assumed res­ponsibility for a litter-free school compound. They do not only collect garbage, they also instruct and supervise their fellow students during the breaks. The girls are proud of being involved in the maintenance of their school, but they say they want to do more.

The commitment and enthusiasm of these girls was recognised by the Jordanian Hashemite Fund for Human Development (JOHUD). JOHUD is Jordan’s largest and longest serving not-for-profit independent organisation. It runs a network of 50 community development centres all over the country. JOHUD reaches out to people in underserviced, poor and remote communities. Rights-based sustainable human development is the main focus of this NGO. Currently it is considering to expand support for environmental clubs in order to raise awareness among the youth.

Reaching out to young people

Whoever wants to get in touch with young people has to go where they are. Young women and young men have different ranges in Arab society. To a large extent, traditional gender stereotypes prevail in Jordan. The participation of women in public life and discourse is not widely accepted, and conventions are even more strict for young, unmarried girls. This is particularly so in rural areas.

In 2002, UNICEF conducted a Youth Survey. One result was that, while 60 % of adolescent boys make frequent use of youth facilities, only 10 % of the girls in the same age group do so. School enrolment, however, is close to 90 % for both girls and boys. Accordingly, it makes sense for ­JOHUD to reach out to young girls within the public education system.

On behalf of JOHUD, we did not only assess the environmental club, but also gave some lectures on water related ­topics. We provided some general information and discussed various strategies to tackle Jordan’s problems. Theoretical input was backed up with skill training. The girls were introduced to the water cycle and the situation of groundwater and surface water resources in their country was explained. Water saving devices and measures were explained to tackle the ­situation on a household level. Moreover, information was provided on non­conventional water resources like desalination and wastewater reuse, and their respective advantages and disadvantages were discussed.

After the technique of rainwater harvesting was explained, the young people were eager to test their new knowledge. ­After the lecture, the girls calculated the water harvesting potential on the school compound. In order to do so, they had to measure the school roofs and interpret rainfall maps.

The school has already been setting up a greywater purification plant, to reuse water originating from the schoolyard taps. The gained water is meant to irrigate a small school garden with herbs and olive trees. To support their plans, a lecture was held about how to tell various soil types apart and to choose the proper irrigation techniques. To encourage the girls for their future activities, a meeting at the Jordan University with female lecturers of the environmental sector was held. Moreover, the girls visited the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN).

To understand the girls’ point of view, we let them fill out a questionnaire. It turned out that they appreciated the lectures. It was evident that their understanding of water issues had become ­deeper. Moreover, they declared that they had been discussing these issues with their friends and families, thus spreading their knowledge.

For the purpose of raising awareness in the general public, it obviously makes sense to work with school clubs. In the longer run, such a club can also become the nucleus of behavioural change in a community. The clean schoolyard in Ajloun is a promising start. In order to raise awareness among the public in general, it would make sense to organise environmental school clubs all over the country. Youngsters are eager to discuss what they have learned, and their interaction with peers and relatives is likely to have a more lasting impact than any media campaign can aspire to.

If JOHUD wants to make the concept of environmental clubs sustainable, it could draft follow-up plans, provide funds for teaching materials and organise field trips. On the government’s side, specific training for interested teachers would be helpful. In any case, teachers’ engagement should be actively encouraged. International development agencies could certainly help to plug some of the gaps.