Jordanian change-maker encourages peace through youth cultural engagement

15/12/2019
, Jordan

December 15, 2019 – Jumana Yousef, 21, recently stumbled upon her passion for art and cultural heritage almost by accident.

“Sometimes, we can’t see something that might be right in front of us. It takes a spark to ignite it. For me, the spark happened when I started working under the guidance of UNESCO and Leaders of Tomorrow, pioneering my initiative to build an appreciation amongst youth for local heritage and culture”.

Jumana’s initiative came to life when she applied on an opportunity she saw advertised on social media, seeking expressions of interest from youth interested in ‘solving societal problems’. As a part of the joint UNESCO-UNOCT “Youth Peacebuilding” project, co-funded by Canada, UNESCO Amman office has been working in collaboration with ‘Leaders of Tomorrow’, a youth-led NGO, training youth in an effort to enhance their cultural civic engagement, participation and sense of belonging.

The training was designed to empower youth and advance young’s people skills in leadership, critical thinking and initiative management, developing creative and sustainable cultural initiatives that prevent violent extremism by promoting a sense of identity and citizenship.

Jumana grew up in East Amman and is in her fourth and final year of study at the University of Jordan. “I got a call telling me that I was one of 20 youth who had been accepted. I was overjoyed. What followed was a very rich experience. During the daily sessions, we learned how to express ourselves clearly and concisely, how to discuss issues without interrupting, and how to think differently than I ever had before”.

Near the end of the five days of training, the youth were divided into teams, each tasked with developing their own youth engagement initiative. Jumana and her team worked to cultivate an enterprise for youth called ‘You Belong Here’. The inspiring scheme attracted local youth and challenged them to learn about their own cultural heritage.

“I think of ‘belonging’ as a simple word that means so much more. To help youth feel that they belong in their communities and their country, we need to create a strong link between them and their world. During October and November, the ‘You Belong Here’ participants and I visited the Citadel, the old downtown, Jabel Weibdeh and historic Naour. We spent two days in each place. During our visits we would ask questions to the locals, interview elders, make sketches of interesting elements and learn everything possible about these places. The people were from all walks of life - Muslims, Christians, Circassians - and they welcomed our curiosity. We left with such a deep understanding of the sites and our history,” shared Jumana. She is eager to begin round two of the ‘You Belong Here’ site visits and this time hopes to create mini-documentaries of the sites using film.

UNESCO recognizes that culture is an intrinsic part of the human experience and contributes to the realization of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Culture's power to transform societies is clear. Its diverse manifestations – from our cherished historic monuments and museums to traditional practices and contemporary art forms – enrich our everyday lives in countless ways. Heritage constitutes a source of identity and cohesion for communities and creativity contributes to building open, inclusive, knowledge societies.

With her strong spirit, Jumana is nothing less than a change-maker.

“UNESCO has provided a safe environment where I feel a sense of belonging. I want to become a very strong and influential woman. To achieve that, I stay open to all things and I say ‘yes’ to opportunities so that I can keep learning”.

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In Jordan, the ‘Youth Peacebuilding’ project is being implemented by the UNESCO Amman office, with funding and support from UNOCT and the Government of Canada. It aims to create opportunities for young women and men to engage as change-makers and peacebuilders in their immediate communities and wider societies, and to promote a constructive vision of young people as leaders, addressing hate related issues.

For more information about UNESCO Office in Amman, visit: https://en.unesco.org/fieldoffice/amman