Standing among the ruins of what is claimed to be the site of the world’s oldest church, 22 year old Hanine reflects on the many challenges she has had to overcome to get to this point. She is one of around 25 Jordanian women and men working tirelessly to restore this archeological treasure in what is the first of a three phase UNDP project that aims to create sustainable livelihoods in the beleaguered governorate of Mafraq. 

First, there were the many objections from her parents. 

“They forbid me from joining” she says. They were opposed to the idea of their unmarried daughter working alongside single men, outside, for long hours. What would people think? 
“I had to work hard to convince them that this was important, that it was a good opportunity for me.”

Then there was the criticism that she and the team received from the wider community. During their first week working at the archeological site, she recalls neighbors shouting abuse and throwing trash over the fence.

“It is against our traditions to have men and women working like this together” she explains. “But, things are different now.” 

After witnessing the hard work and dedication of the young men and women who show up every day, logging long hours under the hot desert sun to unearth the beautiful stone mosaics and meticulously restore the ancient “cave chapel”, members of the community now greet team members when they arrive, and regularly bring them tea and water.  And her parents have come around too. 

The church rehabilitation project is one of eight similar community-led projects that are a part of UNDP’s Emergency Employment Initiative being implemented across Mafraq Governorate. 

In a country where women face marginalization in many aspects of socio-economic life because of traditional attitudes about gender roles - they suffer disproportionately from the effects of poverty, face higher levels of unemployment than men, receive lower wages for the same work, and are less well protected by social security -  the incremental changes in attitudes spearheaded by women like Hanine are key to unlocking the full potential of women to participate in and contribute to their country’s economic development. There is ample evidence showing that when women are able to develop their full labor market potential, there can be significant macroeconomic gains.

Of 100 participants in Rehab, 69 are women. 

“I have a place in society now” says Aisha, who works at the clothes bank, another UNDP phase 1 initiative titled “Together for a better life for poor people”,  that collects clothing donations and distributes them to families in need.  

The programme’s three consecutive phases are designed to link emergency employment to more sustainable livelihoods creation, acting as a “starting point” for long term sustainable development.

First, unemployed young men and women sign up to participate in voluntary community service projects that are responsive to local immediate needs, such as the restoration of archaeological sites, or the refurbishment of an all but forgotten community library. During this period, they receive a monthly incentive, part of which is saved in their own savings accounts, accruing the start-up capital necessary to establish their own business latter on.  

In phase two, participants are mentored on entrepreneurship and receive training on how to establish and run a small business. Each participant or group of participants submits a business plan, and the total amount of capital that the individual or group has saved is then multiplied by UNDP. 

Lastly, the project provides advisory and mentoring services (accounting, legal, marketing, etc.), as well as market development (value chain development, cooperative development and cooperative support etc.) to ensure the sustainability of the established microbusinesses.

The approach builds on traditional elements of socio-economic reintegration interventions – putting people to work and injecting money into local economy – and introduces innovative dimensions: promoting individual savings; enhancing social cohesion by encouraging community members to organise to realise economic activities collectively; and engaging other actors in joint economic ventures based on collective savings, outside investment, and risk sharing.

In the wake of the Syria crisis which has seen over 75,000 registered refugees move into Mafraq’s cities and villages, the governorate is struggling under a double burden of poverty and high unemployment.  Mafraq lies within one of Jordan’s poverty pockets, with a poverty rate of nearly 32 per cent against the national average of 14 per cent. Added to this is the stress of increasing unemployment. A 2015 found that unemployment among Jordanians in Mafraq, Irbid and Amman, three areas with high concentrations of Syrian refugees, rose from 14.5 per cent to 22.1 per cent between 2011 and 2014. 

A total of 200 men and women in Rehab and Hosha have started the three-month community voluntary initiatives with an incentive of 208 JD per month and a savings ratio of 50 per cent, increasing their household income by an average of almost 54 per cent. 

For participants like Abdul Rahman, who comes from a family of 15 in Rehab, the initial incentive is what attracted him, but the project turned out to be a life changing experience. 

“What I have learnt is one should not sit and wait for a job.  It is up to us to create positive changes and our own opportunities.  Indeed, we are making changes with our own hands,”   he explains.
Abdul enrolled in the church rehabilitation programme entitled “Our history reflects our civilization” – the same initiative as Hanine.  As soon as they began making tangible progress in renovating the church grounds, he was surprised to discover the extent of his own commitment to the project. It also made him reflect on his role within his own community. “The project helped me believe in myself that I am able to represent my area in a positive way” he says.

He eventually became a team leader, and under his direction his team managed to secure a building to be the visitors’ centre, in the vicinity of the archeological site, which is owned by the department of antiquities in Mafraq.  

“My dream is to start my own business that specializes in interior decoration, “ he says, and with the skills he’s acquired as team leader, he’s confident that he’ll succeed. And so are we. 

Special thanks to UNDP Jordan for organizing a field visit for this story. 


Sector: Livelihoods and Food Security
Project Name: Emergency Employment 3X6
JRP Specific Objective: RES 1: More and better job opportunities created for vulnerable women, and young men and women
JRP Project Title: RES 1.1 Create short-term employment opportunities for vulnerable Jordanian households in host communities
Total Financing: USD 1.1 million
Project Duration: 12 months
Financing Agency: Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA)
Implementing Partner: UNDP