History of the Peace Corps in Jordan
The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is one of the more recent countries to invite the Peace Corps to provide technical assistance to its people. Peace Corps began in Jordan in 1997 as the result of discussions between the late King Hussein and former President Clinton. American-born Queen Noor and influential politicians familiar with the Peace Corps were instrumental in establishing this productive relationship.
Jordan is the eighth Arab country to have hosted the Peace Corps over the years, but the only one in the Middle East with a current program. Now, more than ever, Volunteers are essential in bridging gaps between, and dispelling myths about, our country and this region. Volunteers can foster peace through trusting relationships, mutual respect, and diligent contributions.
The first group of 27 Jordan Volunteers began their service in July 1997 in collaboration with the Ministry of Social Development and several nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) supported by the royal family. In 1998, Volunteers began working with the Ministry of Education, teaching English in rural primary and secondary schools. Our current youth development project got underway in 2001.
Due to security concerns, the Peace Corps suspended its program and withdrew Volunteers in November 2002. In 2004, however, Peace Corps/Jordan resumed programming, welcoming 25 English teachers, 10 special education Volunteers, and 15 youth development Volunteers for assigments at underserved schools and centers. In July 2005, 32 Volunteers in all three sectors arrived. Currently, there are about 60 Volunteers serving throughout the kingdom.
History and Future of Peace Corps Programming in Jordan
In collaboration with formal partners, Peace Corps/Jordan concentrates on three primary areas: English education, youth development, and special education. In Jordanian society, a significant percentage of the population is well educated and relatively sophisticated. At the same time, in many rural areas, infrastructure, education, and social services are limited.
Volunteers in the education project work in and outside the classroom, assisting Jordanian teachers in formal and nonformal approaches to teaching English in rural schools. As native speakers, Volunteers are especially valuable in improving students’ and teachers’ confidence and fluency. Supplementary to classroom responsibilities, Volunteers initiate projects, such as language resource or computer training centers, clubs and libraries, and almost any project that addresses local priorities.
His Majesty King Abdullah II launched a national socioeconomic development plan in January 2002 that emphasizes the development of human resources through Internet and computer education and improved education in English, science, and mathematics. This involves everything from syllabus review to upgrading teacher qualifications. The Ministry of Education and Peace Corps staff collaborate to define the role Volunteers play to support these reforms.
The youth development project focuses on identifying opportunities for Jordanian youth, particularly young women and girls. Approximately 60 percent of Jordan’s population is under the age of 21. For this reason, Volunteers are involved in both government-sponsored and NGO-supported youth centers in promotion of the kingdom’s National Youth Strategy (NYS), working with staff and youth to encourage healthier lifestyles, including nutrition, exercise, and hygiene. They promote life skills so youth can assume a greater leadership role in their communities.
In the special education sector, Volunteers work with physically and mentally challenged individuals who are often marginalized in traditional Jordanian society. Volunteers have effectively increased public sensitivity and worked with Jordan’s Ministries of Education and Social Development to integrate hearing and visually impaired students into the mainstream school system.
Peace Corps Volunteers in Jordan bring unique skills and ideas to address the needs of their communities. Combining local assets and Volunteer creativity produces more sustainable projects. Successes have included working with a local community to allow girls access to a local youth center; repair of used wheelchairs for redistribution to the needy; developing local Special Olympic programs; implementing summer camps for female youth; creating therapeutic playgrounds for disabled children; promoting local Volunteerism by involving university students in Peace Corps projects; and creating a variety of teaching materials in Arabic.