UNESCO sustainability education prizewinner Zikra builds the future on the past

27 October 2017

“We have so much to learn about sustainability from local knowledge ” says Lama Khatieb, co-founder of the social enterprise Zikra which has won the 2017 UNESCO-Japan Prize on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) for its “Popular Learning Program”.

The prize, which is funded by the Government of Japan, consists of three annual awards of USD 50,000 for each recipient.

Jordan-based Zikra for Popular Learning (‘zikra’ is Arabic for ‘memory’) was founded by Lama, along with Rabee Zureikat, in 2011 and empowers community members to revalue their identity and culture, through the cultivation and sharing of their local knowledge in relation to sustainable solutions.

Zikra has created several programmes to communicate its vision, one of which is Exchange Tourism which bridges the gap between urban and rural communitites. Alongside that it conducts capacity-building workshops and trainings in schools, universities and institutions working with youth, educators and community members in different Arab regions.

It works closely with the marginalized village of Ghor Al-Mazra'a in one of the poorest areas of southern Jordan.

“The villagers have a rich knowledge that has enabled them to live sustainable lives for decades, where they grow their food, weave clothes, build houses and all within a strong community support system,” said Lama.

“We quickly saw that traditional charity was an imbalanced approach. We didn’t want to be the saviours of the people simply offloading things and leaving. We gradually found that we were the ones that were learning from them, that we were so poor in the knowledge that they had at their fingertips.” said Lama.

Now, under the Exchange Tourism programme, a typical visitor will pay a nominal sum to spend a day experiencing village life including learning how to harvest crops and care for livestock.

“It is a revelation for people from the city who may know a lot about consumption but no longer know about simple sustainable skills and the villagers are more than proud to share their own culture and traditions and earn an income,” said Lama.

Individual village activities include making toy cars from wire, a food value chain project and a Musical Identity project based around the reed instrument, the ney.

“The dominant culture in Jordan promotes instruments like the guitar and piano and marginalizes local instruments, music, songs and dances, along with their social and cultural stories that were part of people’s lives in the region for hundreds of years." said Lama.

As a result the Musical Identity project, along with Zikra’s other learning programmes and tools, are being adopted as student activities in several schools and universities .

On winning the prize Lama said: “We feel proudest of all that this prize is an affirmation that we need to start learning from, and not just about, our community. It’s an affirmation that people are the solution not the problem.”

Future plans are focused on promoting and creating new learning tools.

“We are proud to say that we are perfectly sustainable as our work depends on what resources we have around us. The prize money will help us to promote the programme further by building a new website,  developing more learning tools and reaching out to other marginalized communities,” said Lama.

UNESCO’s Director-General and the Japanese Minister of Education will award the prize in a ceremony at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris on 3 November 2017. As with all winners prize, UNESCO will invite Zikra for Popular Learning to join its Partner Networks of the Global Action Programme on ESD (GAP) and foster close, long-term collaboration.