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Arab Renaissance for Democracy and Development

World Day for Cultural Diversity - Community Dialogue in Zarqa brings youth together

Christien van den Brink

It is hot outside the ARDD Zarqa office, when 23-year old Syrian Mohammad and 22- year Anan do a photo shoot. “Should I drop the sunglasses for the photo?” Mohammed asks. Both youngsters were just interviewed about their participation in Bridges to Understanding, an ARDD project in partnership with Fondation de France and the International Institute for Nonviolent Action (NOVACT), that engages youth between 16 and 25 in promoting social cohesion.

Mohammad fled Dara’a in Southern Syria in 2013 together with his family consisting of his mother, two brothers and three sisters. As a young migrant living in Zarqa, Mohammad experienced firsthand that living conditions in his host community are far from easy. “I have always liked living in Zarqa, even though life is hard here. I can feel there is a lot of discrimination toward minorities. And many of my friends, Jordanian or Syrian, cannot find a job. Some can’t even afford a pack of cigarettes.”

Due to the Syrian crisis that has entered its seventh year in March 2017, Jordan alone is hosting an estimate of 1.4 million Syrian, of whom 51 per cent are young people under the age of 18. With limited development and resources, many communities struggle with poverty, drugs, education degradation, lack of community recreation resources, and youth unemployment. Zarqa is one of the main urban areas where Syrian refugees such as Mohammad and his family have settled. The influx of refugees, has fostered an environment with rising social tensions, in which people are suspicious of one another.

During the 6-month project, Mohammad and Anan, together with other participants follow several training sessions that encourage them to create a better mutual understanding. With sessions such as Know your Rights, Conflict Management and Community Dialogue, the project aims to provide a safe space for youth to discuss collective challenges, including their perceptions of each other. It also provides tools to play a meaningful role in social cohesion efforts in Zarqa.

Anan: “The sessions really helped me to understand the situation of Syrian refugees better. Before I didn’t have a very clear idea about their suffering, but by listening to the stories that were shared during the sessions, I realized how much they had to endure,” the ambitious Anan, who wants to become a news-anchor for national television one day, says.

“We learned a great amount about dealing with conflict in a non-violent way, Anan adds. Mohammad: “Before the project, conflicts would quickly escalate. A simple argument over girls or a discussion about somebody’s favorite football team could easily end in physical violence. During the trainings, I learned to think twice, and to use arguments instead of our fists,” he says.

Mohammad proudly explains that he did manage to find a job as a receptionist in the local bath house. “During the Know your Rights session, I obtained a lot of new information regarding my labour rights in Jordan. I feel more confident now that I know that there is a law that can protect me, even though I am not Jordanian.”

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