Blog Action Day 2008: Poverty In Jordan And The Needed Social Activism

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.

Other Jordanian Bloggers On Blog Action Day:
Zait o Za3tar


  • a fascinating post.

    for my part, i turn to sites like freerice, kiva, and goodsearch, as ways to help alleviate poverty online.

    saw this post via the front page of blog action day. it’s great that you’re participating. šŸ™‚

  • ‘The point here is to emphasize that poverty is a social problem and it requires a social solution. It requires social activism,’
    Nas ,,I might add it is political problem before it is social one,I really believe that economic system that government adopted IE full blown casino economics/”free” market ideology that resulted in full blown poverty.There is no way in the world you can separate political economy from what it will result if any giving government or political elites utilizes to role the country. Iam afraid that social activism even with government help would not solve this world wide problem because most governments have adopted an ideology of the so called free market ( with some kind of coursion from the IMF/world Bank) that will only excasberate the problem and not alleviate it..The victim of Capitalism It’s must see video

  • Kouji: thanks for stopping by!

    Kinzi: thanks for reading and participating.

    Urduni: first of all, i am not ignoring the political and economic role. i mentioned that twice in the post. i’m focusing on the role social activism can play. second of all, social problems are not based on only one solution and one leader, there are various solutions, various components, all of which have to work together to create change; not one on its own. third of all, regarding Jordan’s economic policies, no doubt it has contributed to poverty (although not the only factor by far), however, blaming this on the free market is a bit of a stretch. poverty exists and has existed under every economic paradigm in history, and will most likely continue to.

  • Interesting post. I agree that the biggest challenge is getting the wealthy and the influential behind this cause. I believe the solution is social first since rallying this wealthy class behind poverty elimination will pressure the government to act.

    Therefore, I would say that we should get the social activism ball rolling first, and the government will have to follow suit.

  • Zait O Za3tar,,,,To rely on the “wealthy” and “influential” to help the so called poor class is like giving the wolf the key for the hen house!

  • remember your comment to 7iber post on Al Hussein Camp, I thought that was a key solution for poverty there because you went and examined and saw what are the area needs first hand, and its worth bringing up now, more effort into fixing the infrastructure, secure decent vocational opportunities and guidance, micro-financing projects that are area specific, better routes and means of transportation, better education, all that, and I am positive that it is underway. Enshallah. one neighborhood at a time. kulshi biseer. The more we look into the cases and study the true needs of people and places, the closer we are to effective solutions.

  • come on Urduni, enough with the marxist soundbites, they’re banal and out-dated, with all due respect, but we’ve all been there, said the same things and felt really good afterward

    but the reality of the social and political spheres is completely different, and yes, the wealthy can help, will help, and SHOULD help!

    capitalism is a reality, and so it the wealth discrepancy that comes with it, but that, we should strive to correct! Those are my two cents, and I’m not interested in generating a debate about capitalism, marxism, who’s nicer, or who’s the “fox” on this forum, and will therefore not respond to any comeback in that regard.

  • Diala,,No ,just because it’s “reality” does not make it a reliable economic system,we are witnessing the demise and the beginning of the end of the so called “reality”system as you describe it, people all over the world are sick and tired of the same system that has abused them for long time and i will argue that the only economic system that is going to provide justice is Marxism!

  • ok capitalism is a reality but the ussr was a reality shu ya3ni .. reality is not constant .. mish fahim ya3ni what is this argument ..ino its a reality .. so?

    if someone thinks the solution to poverty is abolishing capitalism or “the system” they are entitled to that opinion .. they should be able to back it up of course .. fox and hen cliches are not exactly my idea of a supporting argument ..

  • just wanted to add that one of Madrasati’s prorams is a school twinning program, where one private school “twins” with one public school (this program is done through the Private Schools Twinning Council). The program allows private schools’ students, teachers, and administration to share resources and information with the public school (and vice verca) in addition to visiting each other’s schools and participating in any activities (whether renovation, taking part in certain classes, field trips, community service, workshops, etc…).

  • mo, in case you haven’t noticed, urduni is not proposing a solution to poverty, rather, he’s looking at the issue at hand through a completely different framework. Mind you, but constantly criticizing the solutions proposed by others just because he does not seem to like them does not seem like an argument, or a solution to me!

    And yes, the reality, unfortunately, whether we like it or not, is capitalism… in light of the reality of THE DAY, we need to find solutions, and direct our energies into engaging in CONSTRUCTIVE DEBATES ie… debates that take into consideration the views of others without instantly bashing them because you strictly adhere to one ideology or another

    i hope my ARGUMENT is clear enough this time!

  • Problems of peverty will always be here, this is a fact of life…action is what we need to do in order defeat it, maybe not fully but at least we can have an affect. thanks for linking to my post…i was wondering why all the hits came from your blog šŸ™‚
    Happy Action Blog Day to you and yours!

  • I think charity is a neglected concept in Jordan. How many Jordanian (born and based) local charities can one think of? Very few.

    And while charity organizations are the only technical method that the poor and needy can benefit from the excess of wealth of others, it is unfortunately limited in Jordan and exclusive to Royal endeavours.
    In the west, it is a different story; charities cover everything from illnesses, pets, children, to everything else one can think of!!
    Large chain supermarkets, banks, business-people, give to different charities each, even celebrities have their names linked to certain charities.

    I might be wrong; but charity work, volunteering, and as you mention activism, remain alien concepts when it comes to Jordanians. If we can encourage people to accept them as elements of a more civilized society, we can be miles better!

    – On a side note, isn’t Hajjaj an activism phenomenon of its kind! What a genius!

  • Diala,,,Iam not bashing anybody’s argument Iam trying to point out that the economic system that “our”(which was not elected )government has adopted a system that will always produce destitute and servitudes,and while i command people that trying to make difference,I still think ,we are trying to deal with symptoms and not the disease that has plague our lives for long time .
    Again capitalism will always produce unemployment because the system of capitalism does not concern it’s self to bring employment or wealth to the general masses,to the contrary,it’s main concern is to accumulate more wealth for the rich that in the first place became wealthy on the shoulders of the poor…

  • im sorry if i snapped but i guess it just reminded me of arabs who say “israel is a reality so deal with it” .. when what they usually mean is accept it ..

  • My family in law live in East Amman, – Muhayim Hussein – and are officially “poor”, one person working out of a family – an ever growing family, I might add – of 15 and counting. And yet, the social fabric of their lives is really rich. Perhaps that is because they have the time to meet up and interact with each other? People from West Amman that I met went on about their jobs amd what they owned, because they seemed to be the main things of interest in their lives. They seemed to have more of a Western lifestyle, i.e. working long days, coming home with no energy other than to just crash, spend a bit of time with the immediate family, and rush to go to sleep so as to be ready for the rat race all over again the next day. West Amman looks nice in an antiseptic kind of way, but it feels dead relative to East Amman. The camps I visited had lots of character and smiling, friendly people to go with it. Moving a bit away from Amman, Be’qaa is just the most amazing place to stay in. The best, freshest falafels I ever ate – anywhere. Being able to buy meat straight from the abbatoir is just awesome. In the markets of the camps the fruit is really fragrant, yet in a supermarket we went to in C-town, it was just like in the west, vegetables that had no scent at all. Perfect and tasteless (West Amman) instead of vibrant and full of life (East Amman). The best place I went to for shopping, all the times I have been to Amman, was Wahdat Camp.

    Poverty to me, coming from the West, is homeless people in the United States, living under the bridges of motorways, with their belongings in a supermarket trolley, no income at all and no means of getting any, looking in trash bins for food to eat, or waiting around at tables outside a restaurant and grabbing people’s leftovers before the waiters came to remove the plates. People squatting in houses with holes in the roof, no electricity, no gas, “non-persons” with no income and no means of getting any, isolated people – you get quite a bit of that in London. Some people in Jordan with low incomes may feel poor, but there’s a huge gap between feeling poor and actually being poor. What I saw in the camps I went to are people who have access to fresh water – sure, only on for 24-36 hours a week, but nevertheless, filling huge tanks on the roof while it’s running – who live in houses with roofs that don’t leak, who can afford to eat fresh bread every day, who only eat fresh food and have heaps of free time to look after their children without having to fit them in around work, and who have time to socialise and stay in touch with their wider family. Even if, for a while, there in no money coming in at all, which did happen from time to time, there is usually someone in the wider family who can lend them some money to tide them over.

    If poverty is about not having a car or mobile home, not having a house with a nice garden, not having an income of 1000JD a month, or even 500JD a month, not being able to afford to live in Rabiah or Abdoun, not having nice asphalted streets outside the front door, then for sure, every family I met was poor. But in terms of the things that matter – secure shelter, access to schools that, by my standards, seemed to be pretty good as schools go, fresh food and water, gas to cook with, friendly neighbours, good doctors (ours had patients who came to him from West Amman, and he didn’t charge anyone who couldn’t afford to pay), roofs that didn’t leak – to my mind they were all doing pretty well.

  • I’ve actually joined my schools MUN, and as a charity event, we’re going to paint public schools for refugee children.

Your Two Piasters: