Today was another day of firsts for me in Amman.
Mohammed Shamma and I had been corresponding with Chris Hull, the Canadian Counsellor responsible for political affairs in Jordan.
We met him at a hotel that was hosting an EU conference, discussing the not-yet-fully-revealed election results.
The three of us discussed the CTV and JHR partnership, as well as the work being done in Amman.
Political matters and journalism aside, I also found time to joke about the unique Canadian Embassy barbed wire.
Instead of your average metal barbed wire, I noticed recently that ours has green leaves all over it. It just felt quintessentially Canadian – and we all shared a laugh about that.
Legal Aid in Jordan
Across the street from the conference stands the Arab Renaissance for Democracy and Development (AARD) Legal Aid office.
We sat down with Lana Ghawi Zananiri, the Gender and Media Unit Manager, as well as Samar Muhareb, the Director.
Their mission is to empower marginalized groups to acquire and enjoy all the freedoms and universal rights, while teaching these groups how to use the law to empower themselves.
The NGO was founded in 2008 and now runs out of nine different offices across Jordan, including in the Zaatari and Azraq Refugee Camps.
Having just been to Azraq a few days ago, it was a fascinating conversation about the work that’s being done on the ground there.
Ghawi Zananiri explained that Jordan’s government, and the people, weren’t expecting the refugee crisis to last as long as it has. It therefore requires the need for a short term, but also a long-term solution, and that’s where ARDD-Legal Aid is trying to help.
“In order to access change, you need to be able to access your rights and know them,” Ghawi Zananiri said. “A big part of our work is on advocacy and how to change the way people think.”
And it’s not just the way Jordanians think, it’s also about empowering refugees to know that they too have rights and can seek the kind of aid being provided by ARRD.
They’re working on civic engagement for women at the camps, ways of identifying problems with the family structure, and working with men and boys on being supportive for women.
When it comes down to it, the whole dynamics of the country have changed with the refugee crisis.
One third of the population in Jordan is a refugee of some kind, according to the World Bank.
That figure isn’t just from the camps, but from the entire fabric of the country as a whole.
Jordan has become a place of refuge for so many, with the average stay of a refugee around 18 years – meaning they aren’t here for the short-term, so short-term thinking and solutions won’t work.
“The challenges and necessities [for these families] have changed over the years. It started as a basic humanitarian [issue], necessities like bread. After a few years, it’s ‘oh what’s going to happen to our health and kids’ education,’ explained Samar Muhareb, the Director with ARDD.
When families realize they won’t be in a camp for only a year, or a few months, their mindset starts to change.
“At year five, it’s ‘oh, how am I going to work,’ said Muhareb.
The challenges for Jordan as a whole have also increased and changed over time.
Whether it be the need for more in-depth strategic planning, a different response plan, dealing with the diminishing of funds, or trying to figure out how to incorporate Syrians into society.
The focus is shifting to integration, and ARDD hopes to help, but Muhareb realizes it’s going to be a lengthy process.
“It’s not something that happens in a day.”
Something else that doesn’t happen in a day – election results – but that was expected.
While results continue to trickle in, they have been announced in a few key districts.
The focus for many, though, is on low voter turnout – only 36 per cent of eligible voters showed up to the polls to cast their ballot, according to officials.
When Jordanians went to the polls in 2013, the last Parliamentary election, the turnout hovered around 56 per cent, making this year’s turnout one of the lowest in a generation.
For such an historic election, it’s clear that voter apathy is an ongoing issue in Jordan.
Based on my conversations throughout my time here – at the workshops with journalists, as well as everyday conversations on the street – it’s clear that something has to change.
Time will tell how this election will play out for Jordanians, and we’ll just have to wait and see as the official results continue to trickle in.