Mohamed Abu Amerah is recreating the tightly knit social fabric of the Arab society, torn apart by rapid urban expansion, an influx of refugees, and a shift in focus from the community to self-interests. Mohammed is reviving the concept of harra, a small community centered around a central pedestrian alley where community member would congregate to discuss problems and launch community initiatives, as they collected their daily necessities from stores and vendors. The Harra Initiative, which Mohammed founded in 2005, is currently in its pilot stage in the Jabal al-Joffeh region of Amman, Jordan.
The Harra Initiative has begun to lay the foundation for a strong, healthy community, starting with urban rehabilitation projects. These involve a renewal of the physical environment of the community, including removal of rubble and garbage, building and painting fences, repairing non-structural building problems, planting trees and gardens, using recycled “gray water” for watering plants. Mohammed is shifting responsibility for community development back to the community members: development for the people, by the people.
The social benefit of these projects is the most important aspect. The cooperation required to make these projects successful brings the community together and prepares them to address more abstract, serious social and environmental challenges. In addition, these projects are especially important for fostering a tighter community for the next generation: children watch their parents’ participation and will emulate them, establishing life-long relationships with their peers at the same time.
Mohammed’s Harra is a unique initiative in the Levant region, and has wide-spread relevance in the Arab World. While others are working in the field of community development, none involve the community in the development process to the same extent. In addition, unlike some other organizations, Harra is entirely a grassroots effort, independent from the government. Harra is currently building pilots, and will soon expand throughout Amman, then Jordan, and then into other Arab countries. This will strengthen communal ties and build more independent, self-reliant communities, committed to their own social development.
Mohammed envisions Harra as a communal development model for developing countries, particularly when community erosion is the result of unplanned, rapid urban expansion, re-establishing a balance between urbanization, environmental health, communal well-being, and neighborly cooperation.

Amman’s explosive growth over the last 5 decades has caused the degeneration of harra (alley, or community) and the support network that came with it. This growth is also largely due to unnatural causes. Jordan is one of countries most affected by the Palestinian refugee problem: over 3/5 of its population is of Palestinian origin. As a result, a class system has developed, encouraging discrimination and contributing to the degradation of community.
There used to be a collective moral spirit within communities. Families would interact and help each other through difficult times. Traditionally, the the “Sheikh El Hara” (in urban districts) would be the informal litigation authority in resolving local conflicts. Even though the position of “sheikh” was an informal one, the verdicts they handed out were respected because they were respected within the community. This informal role has disappeared as elected mayors have gradually transitioned into being government employees, a shift that resulted in the loss of credibility and a severance of social ties with the informal system of arbitration. The loss of informal litigation authorities combined with the anonymity of urbanization has left a void that needs to be filled as people have been left with limited means for conflict resolution.
Today, neighbors in Amman barely interact. Seclusion and exclusion has become the norm for many Jordanian families and individuals. Suspicion and intolerance has replaced inter-reliance, friendship and understanding. The absence of communal ties means the absence of communal responsibilities. The result is a crumbling infrastructure and growing heaps of refuse. What the government fails to fix remains broken, as hardly anyone takes the initiative to care for land outside strict property lines.
There are a few other organizations in the Levant that specialize in community development. However, none are committed as strongly to communal development, development for the community, by the community.

One of these is the Community Development Center. The CDC is situated in Sweileh, the most impoverished and culturally diverse area of Amman. It was established in 2000 as the first of its kind in Jordan. The center, run in partnership with the University of Jordan, aims to reduce inequality by promoting the entitlements of marginalized and disadvantaged groups and assisting the community in finding solutions to collective problems. Its social, medical and educational programs reach all sections of society, especially orphans, youth, the elderly, women and families.
The services provided at the center include: literacy training, IT skills training, referral services, a family visitation program, legal counseling and human rights education, support for single mothers and volunteer skills exchange.
A new center has been opened in the Ashrafiyah neighborhood of Amman, where many diverse communities intersect, including a Palestinian refugee camp, a large Christian community of various denominations, as well as Iraqi citizens.
CDC is providing services, but not directly involving the community in its own development. The Harra Initiative focuses on improving communal relations and environment. Projects take place in the community and are run by community members- in the streets and peoples homes, not in a center. CDC’s work is very important, but it does not focus specifically on strengthening stronger communal ties and risks creating dependency.

A second organization working in a similar capacity is the Jordan Hashemite Fund for Human Development, which is sponsored by the government. JOHUD runs fifty community development centers through which it reaches out to people living in poverty in the most remote and underserved communities. Located in both rural and urban areas, the centers provide a focal point for a wide range of groups to work together to promote sustainable development that meets the needs of the whole community.
Each of the 50 centers is run locally, with a management committee comprised of representatives from local Community Based Organizations (CBOs), service providers, leaders and activists. The program of services and projects in each community development center differs according to local needs, but overall they promote social, economic, political and cultural empowerment.
JOHUD encourages women to play leading roles in the organization. Each center has a women’s committee, so women can work collectively on issues of shared interest, and can ensure that their needs are recognized and responded to. Many of the centers’ managers are women. This creates a body of confident, empowered women keen to play an active role in local democratic processes.
Young people are encouraged to take part in after-school clubs and then to graduate to the youth committees and to invest their energy in community projects where they help their neighbors and develop their potential. Through the community centers they receive training so that they gain the skills and confidence to be productive, whether through employment, enterprise or community work.
These community development centers provide a focal point for alliance building: over 250 CBOs and thousands of volunteers work alongside JOHUD to reach shared goals. Together they advocate for policies and program that address the needs of the poor. JOHUD also attracts funds from national and international donors and channels them to the local centers so they can tackle specific challenges
JOHUD works throughout the country, in rural and urban communities. Harra only works in Amman and intends to focus on Amman for the near-medium term. JOHUD is closely affiliated with the government, which limits the political empowerment of the communities it works with, while Harra is entirely independent of the government and can thus help communities advocate for better services.

Another entity working in the field of communal development is the Jordan River Foundation (JRF). As a leading Jordanian NGO, JRF is committed to making a difference in the lives of children and families through its national programs, the Community Empowerment Program (CEP) and the Jordan River Children Program.
Founded by Her Majesty Queen Rania Al-Abdullah in 1995, JRF it has been directly involved in empowering local community members and protecting children from abuse.
Empowering local community members helps combat poverty and ensures sustainable development. The CEP is based on the belief that the individuals themselves are the most knowledgeable about their needs and priorities.
CEP Projects make available economic opportunities and are designed in the field with the individuals themselves, who are involved in the selection, design and implementation of projects. Factors taken into consideration include the resources of the area, feasibility of the project, sustainability and lasting impact of the project on the lives of the community members. Capacity Building and Business Development Services and training sessions are provided to the members from day one of project conceptualization and continue until the local members are fully capable of taking control over these projects. The Projects are then handed over of the members of the local community.
Unlike Harra, JRF is closely tied to the government. Additionally, JRF devotes only half of its time and resources to community empowerment; the other half goes towards combating child abuse. JRF focuses more on small-enterprise development than Harra. Harra’s community mediation program has no counterpoint in JRF. JRF’s community empowerment strategy is mainly to assist individuals and groups in setting up profitable enterprises. Harra is committed to the community as a whole and seeks to eliminate the barriers that have arisen between groups.

UNICEF is also conducting a community development project in Jordan. Its stated goals include ensuring the establishment of participatory integrated community-based development structures in fifteen communities in three governorates and ensuring that all UNICEF interventions in the three governorates are implemented in at least the fifteen communities through their participatory structures.
UNICEF seeks to support the development of needed infrastructure and systems needed for the convergence of all UNICEF programs at the community level, empower community volunteers through community structures, district and governorate structures, advocate with their partners at governorate and community levels and community mobilization, and provide limited service delivery activities considered essential for the program’s success.
UNICEF’s major activities include conducting meetings, workshops, seminars at governorate and community levels, support training workshops on community empowerment approaches and development concepts, establishing networks and intersectoral coordination mechanisms to connect selected communities and potential donors, and supporting the implementation of selected projects identified by local communities as they are related to strengthening community empowerment infrastructures in identified communities.
UNICEF is different from Harra mostly because of Mohammed’s commitment to development by the community members. UNICEF’s priority is the implementation of a specific model, one which is not necessarily the most appropriate given the situation.

The Harra Initiative has begun to lay the foundation for a strong, healthy community through urban rehabilitation projects. These involve a renewal of the physical environment of the community, including removal of rubble and garbage, building and painting fences, repairing non-structural building problems, planting trees and gardens, using recycled “gray water” for watering plants.
The changing concept of community is reflected within the work harra, itself. As in English, in Arabic the word harra (alley) used to mean a cheerful, small road, where you could catch up with friends and neighbors while doing a little shopping at locally owned street shops. It was a refuge from the busy, complex life of the big city. Now, it usually brings up mental pictures of trash, crime, darkness, and mangy dogs.
The current Harra serves 83 families, over 400 people. In five years, Mohammed will expand the project to 20 harras in Amman. In the near term, Mohammed’s goals are increased eco-awareness among 350 families, participation in specific communal development projects by 700 families, participation of the rehabilitation the physical environment 5000 families, basic English education, internet connections, and housing improvements, including upgraded electricity and central heating, for 80 families.
Mohammed envisions Harra as a communal development model for developing countries, particularly when community erosion is the result of unplanned, rapid urban expansion, re-establishing a balance between urbanization, environmental health, communal well-being, and neighborly cooperation.
The social benefit of these projects is the most important aspect. The cooperation required to make these projects successful brings the community together. These projects are especially important to fostering a tighter community for the next generation: children watch their parents’ participation and will emulate them.
Mohammed is implementing the Harra Initiative pilot by identifying appropriate areas of Amman for community development, researching the community, interviewing the residents to determine their attitudes towards their neighbors learn about the problems they face in their communities. The next step is to reach out to natural leaders and get them on board. Once this has been accomplished, these natural leaders enlist the wider community’s participation in the project, emphasizing full communal participation as a goal. Once participation has reach the crucial level, Mohammed and the community leaders form “Community-Based Management Teams,” composed of 7 men, 5 women (whom Mohammed calls the “hidden power”), and 10 children from each lane. The teams are then trained and made aware of their individual responsibilities to make the project successful.
The teams, with some guidance if needed, then design development projects to address their needs and ameliorate problems. Then they call a community meeting and pitch their idea to the stakeholders, those that stand to benefit from the project. From these attendees, action teams are formed.
After this, initial projects are launched. Usually, these projects involve the physical renewal of common areas, excellent team-building exercises, from which additional leaders emerge and the real commitment of individual team members is clearly revealed.
These teams then progress to more difficult problems, those that require a change in attitudes. At this stage, Harra strongly encourages communal identification of the social problems to be addressed.
Once the Harra network is firmly in place, Mohammed will establish an intra-communal conflict mediation program, with natural community leaders proposing even-handed solutions to community members’ disputes, instead of expensive lawyers and unsympathetic judges. These leaders will be chosen by the community, in a democratic way, based on their performance as leaders in the physical restoration and following projects.
In ten years, with enough funding, Mohammed envisions the completion of 3000 harra throughout all of Jordan. He aims for the establishment of broad popular participation in the harras, the discovery, development, and mobilization of thousands of community leaders, quantifiable improvements in the relationship between the sectors of the state: harra, civil society, private sector, government, and increased awareness of the concept of volunteerism and action as a result.

In the pilot community, Harra is also starting educational centers for the community’s children, offering language courses and IT training. It will also establish a women’s committee to address issues of children, family, and health, as well as a committee for helping those in need (poor, widows, emergency health situations). Those in need will go before the committee, present their situation, after which the committee decides whether the community is able to help.
Additionally, Harra is organizing community events, encouraging greater media coverage of the community’s challenges, and seeking increases support and funding.

Mohammed and Harra have encountered many obstacles along the way, including selecting the initial Harra, convincing people to participate, motivating people to continue working on their projects, and making the community leadership, usually affluent and influential people, understand the needs of the most destitute in the community and work towards addressing those needs. However, as the Harra pilot enters maturity, Mohammed is confident that the lessons he has learned from the project will serve him well in his replication and expansion efforts.

Mohammed began his studies in Amman, the first three years in a private school. He was one of the best students in his class, and was particularly fond of public speaking. He would give speeches in front of the class each morning, standing on a wooden table, in Arabic and English. As a strong student, he was well-liked by his teachers.
Then, in his fourth year he transferred to a public school. The first day, he remembers both being forced to work with a very dim student and being slapped by the English teacher, for no apparent reason. He became quite unhappy and his grades dropped, especially in English. He did not participate until the end of the secondary stage, only twice in the intermediate stage, and once in the secondary level.
In school, he frequently remembers defending weak students against the tyrants, an early sign of his life’s dedication to helping society’s underdogs. However, he liked some of the professors, particularly his Arabic professor, and was always proud of his public speaking ability and excellence in history and geography class. In spite of this, he committed to follow a scientific branch of study as directed by his parents against his teachers’ recommendations.
To this day, his public school experience haunts him, which is why Harra is so focused on the needs of children and the importance of early, positive interaction with their communities. Mohammed wants these children to grow up in a better world, with better odds for their ultimate success.
Trained as a trade advisor and enterprise management development consultant, he served as an advisor to the Mayor of Amman for development projects, sitting on the Greater Amman Municipality board, from 2006-2007. His main duties were to initiate and plan development programs, draft policies, and supervise the execution of these programs, with limited resources, to achieve the Greater Amman Municipality “GAM” social and developmental objectives. Within a small period of time he initiated, planned, and executed several development programs. Before that, he held a number of positions as an independent consultant and in consultancy firms.
Mohammed has been proactively involved in public and private community-related projects and activities for a long time. He is a founder of the “Be like Jordan & Belong to the Future, from Ramtha Bani to Davos.” The development of this initiative honed his entrepreneurial and capacity building skills.
Mohammed holds a B.Sc. in Mathematical Statistics from Yarmouk University, 1992.