Today is Blog Action Day and the global conversation this year is about poverty, so I thought it would be relevant to discuss poverty in Jordan. There are naturally a million angles to tackle. We could talk about the UN Human Development report and Jordan’s relatively impressive rankings. We could talk about public policy and what the government has done (or hasn’t) in terms of alleviating poverty; from the national decent living initiative to job creation or lack thereof. We could even discuss the poors’ access to water, health care, jobs, and education, or lack thereof.
Suffice to say, when it comes to poverty in Jordan, there are any number of substantial angles that can and, in fact, need to be tackled. Poverty is, simply put, one of those issues that requires all the components and all the factors to be considered, be they private, governmental, institutional, social, economic, etc.
Many of these topics have been tackled on the Black Iris before and they have, over the years, come and gone in the public sphere. When it comes to poverty, our eyes will always turn towards the roles of the necessary players, predominantly that of government.
With that in mind, I thought it might be a bit more interesting to put all that aside for a moment and talk about the social role, which I find is rather downplayed, or, to put this in another way: I feel it is a conversation that has long been overlooked.
In a small, resource-barren, nation of roughly 5.6 million, where a significant amount of people are either poor or unemployed (or should be considered poor or unemployed); a country where over 60% are under the age of 30, the social role when it comes to poverty cannot be overlooked.
Development organizations, in the typical form of NGOs, have only recently operated in Jordan; attempting to rally many to social causes that include poverty, education and unemployment. They have helped initiate a trend where young and educated Jordanians are beginning to play a role in the conversation. And it’s an important conversation. The private sector has been slow, but its movement is nevertheless evident and growing. Ruwwad in Jabal Al-Natheef comes to mind.
Whether it’s through NGOs or the private sector, there is a trickle-down effect and I’ve noticed it. The fact that the young and educated are entering these fields of development, especially with regards to poverty-reduction, is something that is very important and essential. In a way, it is making the right statement that social problems cannot simply rely on government.
Queen Rania’s Madrasati initiative has recently emphasized this point: that Jordanians should look at their schools as a landmark within their community, within their country, hence, everyone has an obligation to contribute and preserve it. Big moves for big problems will always emerge with big leadership, and nothing has ever challenged the government’s role in that regard. Yet, in the absence of a community willing to come together, many of these moves are lost; fading away in the massive bureaucracy that is government.
Let’s look at where we stand.
The growing gap between rich and poor is perhaps larger now than ever before. So I can’t help but ask myself to what extent is the former helping out the latter.
Our society is growing increasingly fragmented. We live in apartments and houses with tall walls, isolated and alienated from one another. The social dynamic of a neighborhood that is often found outside Amman, in towns and rural communities, is lost in the Capital – the center of this Kingdom’s wealth. The gap is not theoretical, the alienation isn’t either. It’s there. We see it on a daily basis. From street beggars to traffic-light sellers to various other interactions forced upon us by demographics and geography.
The social movement is lacking. It’s there, perhaps even growing slowly, but all in all, lacking.
When it comes to the Action Committee, I’m always a bit surprised at the number of people who want to join us on trips to poverty-stricken areas. It’s not like you have to travel very far to see or experience it. But this goes to show how powerful the protective bubble of the affluent west Amman really is. And that’s where the power lies. The money, the influence, the know-how. It’s also where the ambition, drive and community-service should be.
Imagine what it would be like if private schools joined an initiative like Madrasati, where students would be taken to an impoverished public school to help renovate it. They could be taken in large groups over a period of time. Imagine this being part of a mandatory curriculum; part of the Ministry of Education’s civics syllabus, where the hands-on participation rules over theoretical terms in a ministry-produced textbook. Imagine the impact that could happen, the seeds that would be planted here. It’s a force that shouldn’t be underestimated because in real terms, we are talking about a large army of volunteers. There is a transfer of experience in the process, something that sticks with you, an image that stays with you, impacting you in some shape or form; infinitely.
I have frequently been asked what I would do to combat poverty in a given area. The answer is so complex that it factors in everything mentioned earlier, from government to CSR. However, lately, I’ve felt the impact of what it means for the wealthier Jordanians to participate in the process of poverty-alleviation in their own country, and often times, their own community. Sometimes a street or a block away; a neighbourhood away, a jabal away. People need to be involved, they need to get their hands in the mud, to have some skin in the game, to feel that this status quo affects them on a personal level.
A few years ago, I would argue that the avenues for such social participation were a bit absent from the field. Today, the same cannot be said. The variables have changed, and a person so willing and determined to become proactive will find a number of ways to channel their time and energy in to making a difference. From NGOs to private and public-based initiatives, social activism can flourish in so many ways in today’s Jordan.
I mean, ask yourself, what can Jordanian bloggers, who are from an obviously influential demographic in this country and have an awesome tool of technology at their disposal – what can these people do? What role can they play in the coming years?
Again, I don’t want this to be taken as an excuse-slip for the role of government, which should be at the forefront. The point here is to emphasize that poverty is a social problem and it requires a social solution. It requires social activism, social involvement. It requires a large number of people who are aware, who are willing, who feel a sense of duty, who recognize the impact poverty will have on their own lives, on their country, in the long run.
It is a machine that requires all the components working in tandem to combat a common problem.