Reportage | Jordan, the Country with a Calling for Peace

In Jordan, there are 11 million people, 1.300 thousand of whom are refugees. Through the Mujtamai Amani project – “My community is my security” – efforts are made to address the needs of both the refugee and local population. The initiative’s goal is to construct a stronger and more cohesive community.

"Jordan is a welcoming", with these precise words Nicola Orsini describes a country that has built itself also through the diasporas and the arrival of refugees. Nicola Orsini is the Country representative for AVSI in Jordan. He has been present in the country since 2009.

The Borders of Jordan: a "buffer" Country in the Middle East

"To understand Jordan, we must look especially at its borders: Saudi Arabia to the south and east, Iraq to the northeast, Syria to the north, and the West Bank, Israel, and the Dead Sea to the west. It is a 'buffer' country in the Middle East, an area characterized by wars and conflicts. Eleven million people live in Jordan, one-third of whom are not of Jordanian origin. First, Palestinian refugees, then the arrival of Iraqis, and a significant number of Syrians who have found refuge here: unofficially, Jordan hosts one million and 300 thousand people," Orsini says. (Podcast link).

It is a country that has shown solidarity, but still: "it has enormous economic difficulties and largely survives thanks to humanitarian aid. It has no natural resources, industries, or water resources. Indeed, 80% of its territory is desert. A country where youth unemployment reaches 50%, the third in the world with the lowest percentage of working women. But, also, one of the youngest countries in the world: just over 60% of the population is under 30. A country, I often say, with a vocation for peace, a country that remains beautiful regardless of everything."

Tourism was crucial for Jordan's sustenance. "In Petra, a symbol of Jordan, one million visitors arrived annually. Since October 7, after the start of the conflict between Israel and Hamas, there has been a 70% reduction," Orsini explains. There are several kilometers of border between Jordan, the West Bank, and Israel. Half of Jordan's population is Palestinian or of Palestinian descent. The war destroying the Gaza Strip is not an isolated incident. Conflicts function like drops of water falling into puddles: on one side, they fill them, on the other, they expand them. After the start of the war between Israel and Hamas and the bombings in the Gaza Strip, Jordan wanted the Israeli ambassador to leave the country: "It was a strong signal that expressed a clear position. The priority is to provide humanitarian aid to Gaza and the Palestinian population and continue to support a two-state solution." But as of today, neither seems to be respected: the number of humanitarian trucks entering from the Rafah border with Egypt is too small, and it does not come close to meeting the population's needs, and the two-state solution seems to be drifting away. "Despite the scarcity of resources, Jordan is a country that grows rapidly. That's why the royal family has implicitly made it clear that there is a red line that cannot be crossed: we cannot host millions of refugees." However, the Israeli government's project involves finding a place in another neighboring state.

Mujtamai Amani: AVSI's initiative to strengthen the Jordanian community

From the North of the country, where informal refugee camps shape the geography, to the Wadi Rum Desert and further south in the Aqaba governorate, Jordan opens up to the Red Sea. Here, there is a strong sense of community where the locals cohabit with the host communities. Hence, among AVSI projects in the country, one of the most important is "Mujtamai Amani," an expression that in Jordan means: "My community is my security." "The title says a lot about the goal of this initiative," Jessica Verdelli, project manager, explains.

What we are trying to do, in collaboration with the local civil society, is to enforce intra-community mechanisms of security and protection. We try to do it from North to South; we work in the Al-Mafraq and Al-Zarqa governorates in the north, where the highest number of refugees, mainly Syrians, is concentrated, and then also in the southern governorates, especially in Aqaba. Each place has its particular characteristics, and the initiatives have been planned based on the needs of the communities we encounter, born from dialogue with them.

Jessica Verdelli, project manager

The Mujtamai Amani project works on multiple levels: from combating domestic violence, to organize sports activities for children, art therapy sessions for the whole family, or providing healthcare support. "Through a multidimensional approach, we want to offer a holistic help to the beneficiaries," Verdelli explains. Until today,11,000 people have been involved in the projects, addressing refugees of various nationalities and vulnerable Jordanians. But a project that develops throughout the territory and involves such a high number of people is successful and possible only thanks to a strong networking.

Mujtamai Amani is supported by the Italian government through the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation (AICS) – present for years with its office in Amman – and is carried out in consortium with another Italian organization, Terre des Hommes, and with dozens of local partners, divided into various governorates and municipalities.

"The Italian Agency for Development Cooperation supports the project and believes that cooperation can be the key to strengthen local communities. Here we work in three ways: through direct support to the government, through support to international organizations, and through support to civil society organizations," says Michele Rezza Sanchez, emergency and resilience program manager AICS Amman.

"What is particularly important is that through collaboration with civil society organizations, it is possible to work at the community level, that is, fostering exchanges between Italian communities and Jordanian communities, involving communities in both identifying needs and implementing interventions, facilitating an exchange of experiences and cultural exchange, especially on issues such as social inclusion or the fight against violence. Mujtamai Amani consists of several activities, all necessary: from cash support to meet the immediate needs of refugees to legal training on rights and entry into the job market, from activities with children and psychosocial support to training and awareness events. And this approach is important. All interventions supported by AICS: "certainly aim to respond to an emergency but also to move towards lasting development solutions, and their ultimate goal is to try as much as possible to restore normalcy to people's lives," explains Rezza Sanchez.

"Armony" the Center for Syrian and Jordanian Women to Counter Gender Violence

Safa is a Syrian refugee, 43 years old, who used to live in Damascus. In 2013, she fled to Jordan to escape the war. Today, she is a widow with three children, two of whom live with her in Aqaba, in the south of the Country. The first daughter, however, remained in Syria, and over the years, has become a mother, but Safa, her grandson, says she has only seen him in a video call. She is one of the women benefiting from the Mujtamai Amani project and attends the Armony Center in the Aqaba governorate. The center is located in one of the city's poorest neighborhoods, a single-story structure with a common space and a professional kitchen.

"From the analysis of the territory, there emerged an evident need for quality basic services, including child protection, especially considering the number of families that have declared being subjected to forms of gender violence, domestic violence, and abuse. But here, the presence of international organizations is less common," Verdelli says.

Indeed, AVSI is the only registered organization in the south of the Country. In the Armony center, three times a week, Syrian and Jordanian women meet to cook together dishes from their culinary tradition. This space represents a safe and liberating space for them. Now the food they cook is often sold, and the activity has started to generate income. "Here, women can gather without gender, social, or cultural barriers. For those used to staying at home and taking care of husbands and children, having a place of their own becomes crucial. They have become friends, and laugh a lot. And this is a great success," explains Verdelli. Nadwa, 62 years old, leads this group of extraordinary women. She is Syrian, and used to live in Damascus.

I miss Syria, but I have nothing left there. Before the war, I had a normal life, but not anymore. Here, with work, I can support my family.

Nadwa, Syrian refugee in Jordan involved in the Mujtamai Amani project

Also in Aqaba, thanks to the collaboration with the Ministry of Youth, AVSI holds sports and recreational activities for children and training and awareness meetings for women. Even in the village of Quweirah, a village south of the country, bordering the Wadi Rum Desert, women are at the center. It is a small, isolated village with no services or infrastructure; often the roads are not paved. Women live in a more closed community compared to large cities. Here, AVSI's team leaders, present in all cities involved in the project, are true antennas on the territory that intercept needs and work on training: awareness events on recycling or prevention in health-related issues and activities of psychosocial support.

Initiatives to Combat Child Labor and School Dropout

Family, as well as community, is a key concept. Mujtamai Amani interventions were not designed for the individual but start from the individual and then expand. Often, they start with children: refugees and Jordanians.

"The average salaries of the most vulnerable families are very low. Unemployment is high. This pushes a large number of families to make wrong choices to meet essential needs. Child labor exploitation, school dropout, and early marriages are widespread phenomena," the project manager, Jessica Verdelli explains.

In Rihab, in the north of the country, 23% of families interviewed by AVSI said they do not send their children to school. Here, as in Zarqa, the need for recreational activities and psychosocial support has emerged. Rama is 24 years old. She is now working as a social worker for AVSI in activities with minors, but she was also one of the children who participated in the foundation's projects: "I deal with art therapy workshops; these moments are important because they give children the opportunity to express their feelings in a protected space. Feelings range from love to anger; many of the children with us were born into incredibly vulnerable families."

One of AVSI's main partners for the Mujtamai Amani project is the Petra National Trust, chaired by Princess Dana Firas, which focuses all its work on protecting Jordan's cultural and artistic heritage. It is the oldest Jordanian national organization for the conservation of cultural heritage. When it was founded, it focused on preserving the values and meaning of the Petra site, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Today, the organization's work concerns cultural, archaeological, and UNESCO World Heritage sites in the country. For the Mujtamai Amani project, it provides its expertise and contributes to allowing young refugees and Jordanians to increasingly know the cultural heritage around them and the history of the country where they were born or that hosts them.

Our partnership with AVSI is very important, as is investing in the entire community. We exist as part of a community; we are part of a community. The idea underlying the entire association's work, and therefore also this project, is that to have strong communities, you must build strong individuals. Our community is a circle, a circle of value and security, and even many vulnerable members who are part of the community can provide support and strength for the construction program we are working on together.

Princess Dana Firas, President of the Petra National Trust.

In Refugee Camps to Protect the Health of Women and Children

Informal refugee camps outline the geography in the north of the Country. "In particular, women residing in the camps are hindered in accessing sexual, reproductive health, and family planning services due to socio-cultural norms and the belief that these services are not a priority and, therefore, not worth paying for," Beatrice Ascenzi, project manager for Terre des Hommes, comments. To respond to this need, through Mujtamai Amani, collaboration has been initiated with the Soldier Family Welfare Society, which has become a project partner. Regularly, the center opens its doors and ensures free visits for everyone. But still: "with the team consisting of a gynecologist, a female gynecologist, a pediatrician, and a nurse, we visit an informal refugee camp in the Mafraq governorate every day," Ascenzi explains.

Article by Anna Spena for