Introduction

Jordan is a land of many ethnic indigenous and immigrant groups, religions and cultural traditions. Samar acknowledges and disaggregates these to help young people work through their unique problems. Nurturing leaders within each group, she then re-aggregates them to model a new, just, equal society where citizens are able to solve problems and live successfully together. Samar replaces apathy, loss of identity, alienation, and feelings of exclusion among Arab youth with empathy, rights consciousness and a framework for action and social change. What emerges is a new and united cultural identity.

Samar empowers Arab youth to become active citizens in their communities, as she transforms youth’s sense of apathy, loss of identity, alienation, exclusion & prejudice into civic engagement.Samar breaks the barriers to youth’s engagement and gets youth out of their ghettos using an unprecedented approach which considers youth as a heterogeneous group and addresses the particularity of their exclusion before working on breaking this exclusion.  Samar divides youth into different groups then designs customized solutions to engage each group of youth, thereby rejecting commonly used one-size-fits-all solutions targeting youth civic engagement.

Samar works with youth of all ages from the different ethnic groups and socio-cultural groups all over Jordan. She divides youth into four networks which she classifies based on their different types of exclusion, whether it is economic, ethnic or cultural exclusion, and provides them with the knowledge and tools they need to engage as active and aware citizens. Samar calls this set of knowledge and tools the missing content paradigm kit in citizenship education, she uses diverse tools compatible with the different groups such as discussions, debates, co-authorship and theatre. Samar also connects youth in these networks to activists who can collaborate with them on their different initiatives and who can advise them on civically responsible activism channels and connect them to legitimate channels whereby they can get the rights they have been denied due to prejudice and exclusion. Samar has thus developed a comprehensive system that allows youth to feel the uniqueness of their identity, be aware of their rights, and find an outlet to implement their gained knowledge and know-how.

Existing initiatives in the region often perceive youth as a homogeneous group without addressing the different layers of exclusion and prejudice that they face in their communities. Such initiatives provide youth with abstract knowledge and sometimes try to impose their own ideologies on youth. Youth are thus unable to correlate and determine root causes and possible solutions for their own problems and their society’s problems. Moreover, initiatives in the region seldom provide youth with a channel through which they can get their rights and participate in their societies. The result is frustration among youth as they are deprived of their basic rights as citizens and the chance to make a difference in the community, such frustration could sometimes lead to the disruption of harmony in the society.

Samar’s initiatives will result in mobilizing a civically engaged youth movement that will be apathy free and will proactively participate in the creation of a pluralistic society.

Youth in many countries of the Arab World, particularly in the Levant, lack a broad sense of belonging. There is little sense of national cultural identity. Consequently, youth stick closely to their primary affiliations of ethnic group, tribe, religion or socio-cultural subgroup.  Additional alienation results from poverty, lack of political participation, and little knowledge about the spaces and channels for political and community participation. Weak links between youth, their wider community and country generate discouragement among youth that further prevents them taking action or feeling they can change the way things are. Domination results in frustration among minorities and oppressed groups, and this threatens national peace and harmony.

The fact that 60% of the region’s population is under 30 years of age can be a shocking or a reassuring fact. We know that a young national population has the potential for future strong economic growth. We also know that a young, undereducated, frustrated, unemployed population can be a powder keg of instability, crime and violence. As youth have little political power while living in a society where success is not based on merit. they can react negatively and explosively. They can be manipulated by those with radical ideologies.  To reap the benefits associated with a youthful population, Arab world countries need to change their social, political and economic institutions to engage all youth.

 

Although the Jordanian population is considered small in relation to other countries in the region, it has a very diverse population, as it was home to many refugees. The majority of Jordan’s population is comprised of Arabs, most of which are Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese, with Jordanians from tribal decent forming a relatively small portion of the population.  The remaining non-Arabs of the population are mainly Circassians, Chechens, Armenians, Iraqi Kurds and Gypsies. It is evident that those groups now live in different socioeconomic conditions that add up to their cultural differences.

While the laws in Jordan support equality with no regard to class, gender or race, and while the Monarchy endorses inclusion, Jordanian citizens still face prejudice and discrimination indifferent levels according to their socio economic groups. Minorities in Jordan have started to feel that they do not belong to Jordan and thus are not obliged to give back to their country. Youth are among the most affected groups as they suffer from different and intersecting levels of exclusion.

It is thus obvious that no attention has been given to the largest segment of the Jordanian population as the youth do not have the chance to take part in activities that may improve their understanding of life and give them a chance to be a part of their communities. However, the government and the Royal Family in particular have been exerting great efforts especially in the education domain. Queen Rania declared that the ongoing campaigns should be named “Education for All” and thus Jordan is one of the countries that have a National Plan of Action for Children. The Royal family has a stronghold on many organizations that provide different activities for youth. The most dominating of these is the Jordan River Foundation, established by Queen Rania and aimed at helping the youth become a part of their communities. It is one of the first organizations in the Arab World that talks about the taboo of child abuse and it aims to implement its Child Safety Program to help families nurture their children in face of the hardships of present day life.

The global education initiative backed by the World Economic Forum, now under the umbrella of Queen Rania as well, aims to develop an innovative initiative through establishing public-private school partnerships.

There are other CSOs in Jordan that also target youth such as the Save the Children organization, which operates the Naseej initiative. Naseej (Arabic for weaving) is a regional initiative that allows youth to experience new activities in different areas and promotes exchanges between different youth organizations in order to promote youth leadership in the region. The Voice of Arab Youth (VOAY) is another scheme that aims to help youth with projects for the development of the community to get funding and exposure. These projects are youth-led where the entrepreneurs are supplied with the skills they need to implement their programs, usually aiming for job creation and income generation for the underprivileged communities.

Other initiatives are objective-oriented such as The Middle East Youth Initiative (MEYI), launched by the Wolfensohn Center for Development at the Brookings Institution and the Dubai School of Government in July 2006. It aims to increase awareness to the significance of youth inclusion through documentation and conducting researches that will affect both policies and practices. On the other hand, many schemes target creating job opportunities and equipping youth with the necessary skills. A prominent example is INJAZ, (Arabic for achievement) which aims to build youth skills in order to help them succeed in the labor market, the Youth Career Initiative and the Youth Employment Summit that has previously taken place in Alexandria, Egypt.

Awareness campaigns have also become a norm in Jordan, warning youth about various social aliments or health-related issues, such as the Mass Media & Community Based RH Program for Jordanian Youth, that advocates family planning and raises awareness about Aids and STDs.

The Royal Family in Jordan appreciates the importance of youth inclusion, even from an early age and has thus established the Performing Arts Centre, under the patronage of the Queen Noor El Hussein Foundation. Its aim is to incorporate arts into all the levels of education and serve as a regional model and national resource exposing youth to different issues through art. The Princess Basma Resource Centre also aims for youth participation through different initiatives including creative thinking. Real innovators in this field that are targeting the grassroots communities seem to be very limited such as the Freedom Theatre in Genin which attempts to engage refugee children to express their trauma through theatrical expression (in reincarnation of the Theatre of the Oppressed); while Al Mawred Al Thaqafy is a regional initiative that attempts to bring together the different cultural diversities of the region whilst encouraging partnerships.

Although art, culture and career-based skills broaden youth’s horizons and provides them with tools to have a significant role in their communities, youth still continue to lack a sense of belonging to their country.

Across the region a number of youth-led activities provide youth with the information and tools necessary to solve global issues and conflicts. Such activities include simulation models of international organizations such as the United Nations Organization, the League of Arab Nations, the African Union or the International Monetary Fund where students discuss issues such as the Middle East conflict, Arab Unity and global warming, mostly topics which they cannot solve in real life. All these simulations provide situations for the youth to attempt to pragmatically solve problems in the region, depending on the council they adhere to. This is the main space where they are able to express their opinions, especially in countries where political participation is repressed.

As for initiatives working on enhancing tolerance among different cultural groups, a few initiatives exist in the Arab world. Misryati, a program in Egypt, works on increasing tolerance among youth of different religions and social backgrounds and underlining their Egyptian identity above all other identities. The program also supports youth wishing be more active in their communities. Although effective, the program has limited outreach. Nonetheless, all these initiatives increase youth’s knowledge of the surrounding communities; build on their capabilities for certain objectives, such as job creation; or provide them with a means to express their opinions. However, although simulation conferences provide the latter, ultimately youth become frustrated since they are not able to make concrete their solutions and plans. If they do not have the chance to participate in these conferences, their education also does not provide them with opportunities to take action and identify with their communities.

On the other hand, Samar Dudin has invested efforts in children of different ages to provide them with knowledge, skills as well as realistic schemes to implement their visions and use their potential. Through Takween, her CSO, she upholds the motto of “Open Spaces for Enlightenment and Creativity” in order to grant youth the opportunity to re-integrate with the society that has previously alienated them. Whereas most initiatives train youth in a void or in scenario-based circumstances, she is attempting to provide educational content that endows youth with the main constituents of an identity that had previously ceased to exist. Samar is among the pioneers in the region in providing youth with channels for action where they can employ the knowledge and skills they gained through training.

Having worked for 15 years with youth, through her work in development, education and arts Samar found that Jordanian youth –as most Arab youth- are apathetic as a result of their alienation or disempowerment. Having worked with youth in different areas in Jordan with a focus on Jabal Natheef, an area of great ethnic diversity and striking inequality, Samar realized that the reason behind youth’s apathy and alienation was loss of a common Jordanian identity and the reign of discrimination against ethnic minorities and less privileged social classes. Having also served with the Amman Municipality introduced Samar to the challenges that the Citizen Sector faced when working towards positive social change in the country.

Through periodical workshops, which she has started in 2004, Samar worked on reinforcing youth’s sense of identity as Jordanian citizens by making them realize that identities are multi-layered. She also helps them combat their exclusion and fight for the rights they have been deprived because of such exclusion. Samar had started working with youth through co-authorship in 2001.

Samar is currently working on her idea under the umbrella of Takween (Arabic for Formation), a CSO she established in September 2006. In January 2008, Samar formed a roundtable with a group of Arab scholars and cultural activists under the title “what is missing?” to advise on the themes that can inform a value based identity and belonging program which will enhance the “missing content citizenship development program”. This roundtable helped frame key themes and identify reading material to be used for the diverse youth groups; the themes that emerged mirror many themes that are frequently tackled during the youth work which include the values of pluralism, enlightenment, self will and independent initiative.

Samar classifies youth according to their different types diverse types of exclusion based on religious, ethnic ideological economic and professional difference amongst youth groups. She has created four networks through which she acts. The first network “Amman Cultural Diversity Youth Network” focuses on youth from ethnic, religious and political minorities, documenting diversity in the city and spreading tolerance among youth of different ethnic groups or backgrounds. The second network “Akh-Tashaboh” focuses on economically disadvantaged youth living in marginalized areas, it highlights difference as a positive factor, initiating dialogue among underprivileged youth in closed societies, including the poor and the minorities. The third network “Dardashat Youth dialogue forum” focuses value formulation for youth that are apathetic and entering into the job market, based on a module of technical and self development skills, Samar tries to reach youth and engage them as active citizens. The fourth network “Artists in Community Work” focuses on youth working in theatre, it and supports artists to master their tools of self expression and promotes co-authorship.

Samar works with these different groups to break their isolation by enabling them to transform their exclusion into civic activity. From these disaggregated sub-groups, leaders are identified who then come to work actively together (re-aggregated), ready to form a new and wider cultural identity. Samar adopts a participatory learning by doing approach, creating safe open spaces for them to debate and discuss the daily  situations that they face that make them excluded, and engaging them in a process to investigate doable actions to address their problems. Samar connects youth in these networks to decision makers and activists who can advise them on civically responsible activism channels for change and help them to bring their ideas to light, instead of merely giving them the tools for change and then limiting their real-life application.

For the “Amman Cultural Diversity Youth Network” and “Akh-Tashaboh” network, Samar helps youth explore how their diversity & difference is experienced in their city and identifying the wounded voice in their identity collaborating to find solutions for that wounded voice and concrete actions to change their sense of social exclusion. Youth in this network are documenting the story of Amman as a diverse city through oral history, they are also documenting “the pain of being different” by relaying what they felt when they ere excluded and discriminated against due to their difference. Youth are currently working together to create concrete solutions for the exclusions they face and to take action. Samar has helped many youth stand in the face of the injustices they were subjected to, while resorting to legitimate channels of participation. Among those youth is Mohamed Aly, a young man who could not get on the bus to his university in a neighboring town because the bus driver knew he did not belong to an affluent Bedouin tribe; when Mohamed reported to the police his request was ignored, when guided by Samar he approached the university which took action and organized transportation in a more effective way.

As for the “Dardashat Youth dialogue forum”, Samar’s sessions tackle critical questions in youth’s lives centered around their personal belief system, business ethics and the tension between religious or tribal affinity & civic responsibility. Samar help youth reflect on their values and encourages them to serve their community.

As for the “Artists in Community Work” group, Samar collaborates with young Artists who work on mainstreaming diversity in a personalized narrative style in children’s curricula through co-authorship and contemporary reflection. Samar empowers those artists by addressing their source of exclusion as artists that inhibit them from working with and belonging to their community. Among those youth is Joyce Al-Rai, a theatre artist whom Samar helped overcome stigmatization and aided her to continue her education.

Through her efforts, Samar has been able to reinstate youth’s sense of belonging, breaking barriers that exclude them from society to fully socially integrate them once more. Adolescents from “different or special cultural identities” have started to express their cultural diversity and participate as active citizens since they are given the chance to apply their ideas practically, and a great number of youth have started volunteering as social workers.

Samar believes that working with the different “excluded networks” will create a youth led activism movement, and cultural & educational products that will enhance society’s understanding and acceptance of such means of exclusion, and results in collaboration with government & private sector stake holders, which will ultimately eliminate practices sustaining prejudice or discrimination using peaceful means and civic channels. Samar will scale up her idea and to finally work on the mobilization of a social movement that empowers youth to be civically engaged by transforming their exclusion into positive civic action, strengthening their identity and sense of belonging.

In the next three years, Samar will document case studies under the name “Amman as a context” where she will showcase success stories of youth who managed to transform their exclusion into a civic action of integration and unity.  Samar will also develop a reading kit that specifically addresses exclusion and integration across Jordanian & Arab contexts this reading kit will integrate literary and thought texts that help youth explore the themes of pluralism diversity and working to stop prejudice especially the more subtle type which usually creates a sense of alienation and apathy across youth groups

In five years’ time Samar will mobilize and educate and empower a network of youth activists from diverse backgrounds who work with youth and who have the ethical fiber to inspire and transform youth and who believe in diversity and the right to be equal despite difference. Those will include social, workers, teachers, artists, cultural activists, human rights activists and political activists whom Samar will train them on the using the “missing content” from citizenship education kit in their own networks in the cities and youth centers universities and schools.  To support her initiative, Samar will create specific actions to make the activist profiles known to the decision makers to empower them by connecting them to the channels of decision making and to create a support network where they are known identified and have value and weight to support youth to influence and transform their difference and sense of exclusion into concrete actions using civic peaceful channels.

In the next ten years Samar’s initiatives will result in mobilizing a civically engaged youth movement that will be apathy free and will proactively work on changing laws mobilizing politically and participating fully in the creation of a pluralistic society where all youth belong .

In Lebanon, Syrian, Iraq, Egypt and Morocco, just like in Jordan, ethnic, religious, cultural and socio-economic differences among the citizens lead to friction and threaten the common identity and belonging among all inhabitants, but mainly among youth who are now the largest social group in the region. Samar’s idea and how she uses the “differences” which usually led to separation as a tool for “a unified identity” is very useful for those Arab countries. Samar will replicate her model in those countries benefiting of Ashoka’s network of fellows and partners. She has already discussed collaboration with Joanne Bajjaly (an Ashoka fellowship candidate) in Lebanon who is working on building a common identity among youth using heritage. She has also approached Ehaab Abdou, Ashoka Fellow in Egypt who promotes co-existence among young Egyptians of different religions, ethnicities and socio-economic backgrounds through his initiative “Ana Masry” or “I am Egyptian”. She will also consider collaboration with Hisham El Roubi, Ashoka fellows in Egypt who promotes volunteerism among youth, as well as Mohamed Abbad Andaloussi Ashoka fellow in Morocco, a country divided among Moroccans of different ethnicities, and who works in schools.

Samar grew up in Jabal Al Weibdeh a diverse neighborhood, an was raised between the homes and shops of a healer, a francophone intellect, a leftist secular thinker, a businessman, a pioneer businesswoman, a pioneer Jordanian woman lawyer and feminist, a poet writer, a socialist bookshop owner, a radio broadcaster and storyteller, a novelist, and a theatre troupe. Those characters inspired and illuminated Samar and other youngsters in her neighborhood, and introduced them to their different ideologies and thought, thereby planting the seeds of activism in the young girl’s spirit.  Samar’s neighborhood brought together a diverse fabric of families who celebrated Eid and Christmas, who observed with respect each other’s diverse lifestyles and who embraced with generosity the dialects, original languages and customs of their neighbors. It is also at this neighborhood that Samar was introduced to her lifetime passion theater, as she visited the children’s theatre center as a young girl.

 

Samar believes that identities are multilayered; her own identity integrates all the ethnic religious, ideological and cultural identities that call Amman home. Through her work with youth through Takween, Samar is trying to re-create her neighborhood which embraced all Jordanian citizens regardless of their different ethnic religious, ideological or cultural identities.

An achieved student in secondary school, Samar was told about a scholarship to study theatre arts in the United States. Without consulting her family, she applied, was accepted and was off to prepare for her dream, a children’s theatre in Jordan. She returned to Jordan in 1985 with a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre Arts from The University of Santa Clara, California. Samar is now one of the pioneers of Drama and Theatre in Education in Jordan and a lifelong cultural activist. She has developed several innovative and multi-disciplinary initiatives that integrate education, development and the arts targeting mainly children, youth and their caretakers in local communities.  She adopts a participatory research based approach in her theater productions, co-authored and performed by youth communities.  Through out her work, she has placed a special emphasis on the creative, social, and emotional development of children & youth.

Samar is well placed to advocate her vision. She is an active citizen who has participated and launched a number of initiatives. She is a member of The Advisory Committee of the Arab Education Forum, a founding member of The Creative Network Initiative, and a board member of The Jordanian Children’s National Museum, a founding board member of Al Balad Theater, member of the board of trustees of King Abdullah Development Fund. She has also worked as a member of the task force of the national agenda on social welfare and poverty and a trainer on leadership with the International Women’s Forum. Samar was an appointed member of the Amman City council and was the Mayor’s Deputy of Amman as a Child-Friendly City Agency, a policy intervention body which aims through specifically through participatory processes and community empowerment to enhance the lives of children and adaolescents in Amman city area.

Samar lives in Jordan with her husband and three daughters. She continues to write and direct theater plays advocating for the causes she believes in.