The 7 days in Jordan that changed my life forever

What is your why? why you do what you do?

To know your purpose, it is discovered through life experience and memorable moments! Knowing your why is an important first step in creating a life you enjoy living and influences your outlook on life. In September 2012 I found out my WHY?  The very first Changing Lives Programme where 14 students from Coventry University took part in Queen Rania Al-Abdullah Educational Initiative Madrasati. An initiative between Madrasati, Eastern Holding and Coventry University, aimed at changing the lives of underprivileged school children in Jordan. 

As a group, we were geared up for something inspirational, a memory was being plucked from the universe that would last in our minds forever. I will write my story and the importance of giving to others who are less fortunate; it will inspire you to do the same.

The project wasn’t going to be an average trip abroad – it’s purpose was to change us in unexpected and important ways. Sometimes these changes are clear, and other times they’re fuzzy, hard to define, and part of a bigger self-evolution.

“We can’t help everyone but everyone can help someone”

Here I write an account of memorable highlights and stories during my time in Jordan that gave me inspiration. This is the success story of the first Changing Lives Programme, which involved giving hope and inspiration to children. The aim of this success story is to perhaps inspire you to also take to Jordan, a beautiful country for its culture and history.

A NEW CULTURE

The trip started with the affirmation of being in a unique environment, a different culture, and you are immersed in a world that’s completely different from the one in which you live. The programme exposed us to the social and cultural aspects of the Arab world. Furthermore, after the long travel we appreciated the great extent to which the organisations went to help create a stimulating learning environment. In the morning hours, we arrived at the school and you get the feel of Irbid; the quietness of the village where this school was situated in. Slowly we make our way inside greeted with the culture of school, an introduction to the school principle and as tradition Jordanian tea and sweets.

This included an opportunity to get to know the pupils; smiles were brought to their faces as they see an opportunity to get to know students from abroad. We came to know some students who became like my little best friends, as they sang to us and played games with us. The school principle I have managed to stay in touch with and now they have developed their own Facebook page. The energy was like no other, they saw us as them, welcoming us with open hearts.

This exposure helps you understand the concept of connecting people together through friendship. We can all agree that on our participation that we were introduced to greater diversity. We travelled all this way to help a school; surreal and symbolic. We worked with local coordinators, program directors, teachers, and students. Their knowledge, education, and experiences were entirely different than my own, which I grew to like.

“A mind that is stretched by a new experience, can never go back to its old dimensions”

JORDANIAN HISTORY

The most notable experience was soaking in all that positive energy from our excursions to the Dead Sea, Jerash, Um Qais, downtown Amman. At each of these historic locations we took group photos, spending dedicated time on these excursions helped us grow more and getting to know each other. Memorable photos that would last forever. It was symbolic of sealing our place in Jordanian History of the first ever Changing Lives Programme, taking these groups photos would emphasise the joy we had on our journey to future programmes to come.

“Without history, there would be no future”

IT IS CHALLENGING AND THE WORK BEGINS

Following the formal introductions, the group was then led on a tour of the school. This included the classrooms, playing areas and general facilities of the school. It was here that the group realised that the task of transforming areas of the school was going to be both significant and challenging. We divided into separate groups, and tackled different areas, included science, arts and crafts, sports, music debating and the interior and exterior beautification of the school. The work was challenging yet motivated us to think of ideas and brain storm together making us a team. The added motivation of course came from the children and teachers, with their smiles, energy and uplifting spirit. Every one of us felt so welcome at the school from both the teachers and the students. This was a constant reminder that every action was for them, which made us enjoy it even more. Keep going team!!

“Do not fear the challenge, with action no matter how big or small the results will eventually unfold before your eyes.”

PASSION FOR EDUCATION

In the morning, all students gathered together and sang a school hymn and the national anthem as they raised the country flag.  It was a serine moment and it was peaceful. It made me think about their love for education so much yet they were underprivileged and even under such circumstances they loved learning. No matter what your situation or environment always retain that passion. In our societies, we take for granted for what we have and yet in front of me I see a version of success that I have never encountered before. A surprising notion was how mature these children were, in speaking with them they understood that they wish they had more resources but they would do the best they can with what they have. This struck a chord in my heart. This gave me motivation to do more in bettering their school and become part of an ongoing project.

“Education breeds confidence, confidence breeds success, and success fulfils dreams.”

JORDANIAN FAMILY TIME

The group was then offered traditional Jordanian hospitality thanks to the generosity of the group’s driver Ahmed who invited the whole group back to his home to meet his family and to share a prepared lunch. This for me was a beautiful moment where we shared memories and made friends with family. Experience of Jordanian culture, soaking in the beautiful whether and treated to lovely food cooked by the family. One of the key aspects of Jordanian culture is the hospitality shown by hosts to their guests.

“Life is about the people you meet and the things you create with them so go out and start creating.”

MY FAVOURITE TRADITIONAL JORDANIAN DISH

Working throughout the morning into the lunch hour, painting, decorating, playing sports with the children, it was time for food and of course we were all hungry. A unique dish was being served called Makloubeh (which translates literally into “upside down”) is a famous Levantine one-pot rice, spice, and vegetable dish or chicken. You will find different variants of it throughout Syria, Jordan, Palestine, and Lebanon. The name makloubeh or upside down refers to the way this dish is served.

I remember this as a unique experience as I grew an interest in Arabic food. The teachers at the school got their family members to cook for us, which was bought into the school. We gathered around the huge table in the arts room and enjoyed our time together. It signified family and we were all there for a noble cause.

A RANDOM ACT OF KINDNESS CAN BRING PEOPLE TOGETHER

As the artwork came together, the exterior of the school looked amazing with the stencil design, music playing in the classrooms; interior design was coming together in classrooms. The atmosphere was lively and progress was being made. Interest developed as locals stopped by the school to see the progress. Helping others will immediately bring an aura of positivity and performing such regular acts will help you find a way through your own struggles. In return when you find out how much it can mean to someone by doing something little, it drives your happiness and optimism that the same will happen for you. The same did happen the locals began to join in – together in hands for a greater cause. Drop a pebble into a pond and see the rippling effect, it is the same with helping people in life, our work would be start of something new.

“The greatest good is what we do for one another”

DINING WITH JORDAN’S FINEST- GRAND MILLENNIUM HOTEL

At Grand Millennium hotel, we get to meet Dr. Majid AlSadi. We learn about the project; more about him and his ambitions.  A fantastic opportunity to talk to him in person and it really highlighted for me a success story, an example of giving success back. The night wasn’t just about appreciating the amazing hotel and the after party but remembering Jordan’s finest. A night where there were many people who were involved in the project. It was a taste of success that reaching an elevated level of success it is equally as important in giving back to people.

“Success isn’t just about what you accomplish in your life, it’s about what you inspire others to do”

A SPECIAL PERSON – ESME LAURELLE LOUW

Esme was our project coordinator from Eastern Holding. I will always remember Esme for looking after us during our trip. An example of a role model, a professional who is organised and in leading the group. Memorable moments were her full of energy attitude whilst doing our work at the school and encouraging us at every step. During our trips, even on the coach she would make us laugh and make us feel comfortable in this new world and culture that we were immersed in; singing to the Arabic music being played by our driver Ahmed. Throughout the journey she took us took us to cool places like downtown Amman for a walk and having falafel wraps bought from the street vendors. We took the opportunity to buy gifts and souvenirs that would be used as prizes for the children at the school

“You know they’re special, no matter what mood you are in, they can make you smile”

MEETING QUEEN RANIA

To our surprise we did not know we would meet until we were told by our supervisors; excitement grew as we would make our way to meet Queen of Rania Al Abdullah. An amazing privilege to meet an international voice of cross cultural dialogue, an outspoken philanthropic advocate, and a promoter of advancing health and educational opportunities in Jordan and across the globe. We shared our stories and expressed our love for the programme because it changed us inside. The message she gave was simple and has resonated throughout my life that no matter who you are or wherever you are from, we can do a lot to change the world. Education is valuable to the future of our children and it takes emotional, physical and mental energy to carry out such an immense project. Whatever ambitions you have, chase it. We stood together to take a group photo with the queen, no one else would get an opportunity like this, we were witnessing greatness.

“I believe that if we want our children to understand the world beyond their classroom, we must bring the world into their classroom” – Queen Rania of Jordan

SAYING GOODBYE HURTS

This was the most emotional day as we saw the children for the last time, they would finish school early at around 2 or 3 and for them it was an opportunity to say goodbye, whilst we stayed till the evening. Students in their numbers would approach us with handbooks, papers, textbooks anything for us to write a leaving message for them, some asking us for our signatures, like a celebrity would be signing autographs. It was an amazing site as all of them gathered near the entrance, it felt surreal and for children to see you as a symbol of motivation changes you in the most powerful way. Overwhelming it was, by the work that had been done, the school and the students. We had created a special connection with them, which would continue even after the project ended. We knew they enjoyed us being at the school but even more so on the final day as they told us they didn’t want us to leave and we had hugs and farewell messages. I didn’t want to leave but I knew I would be coming back for sure.

“Goodbyes are not forever. Goodbyes are not the end. They simply mean I’ll miss you, until we meet again!

REFLECTION – WE ALL HAVE FLASHBACKS OF MEMORBALE MOMENTS

I have never done something so fulfilling, life changing, or challenging with regards to helping others, and I can truly say that this has been one of the best life opening experiences of my life. I feel that we learnt as much from the students as they did from us, and it is amazing how people from such diverse cultures have been united in such a beneficial way. Though it seems like it all ended when we said our good-byes to the children, in fact this is the beginning of a beautiful relationship between the schools from Coventry and the children in Jordan.

“Live for moments you can’t put into words”

PROGRESSION IS BEAUTIFUL– MY 2014 VISIT – LIVING THE MEMORY AGAIN

A vision helps us create what does not exist and seeing beyond the present reality. When we’re looking to define a vision, we conjure a bold statement that inspires us and drives us to want to get up every day to achieve it. This is what the Madrasati programme taught me and it inspired me to motivate others. The organizations involved had a vision and I saw that progression by visiting on my own accord 2 years later, the challenging work and dedication of all people involved was clearly evident.

I wanted to visit again, which I did so in 2014 to see the development of the school. Myself and the school principle stayed in touch since the 2012 visit and it was amazing to see such an improvement. The school principle was so happy that I came to visit. Like the first visit we were given a tour, and I was so happy with what I saw.  There was a massive improvement, the arts and crafts room was full of visual imagery, they had computers in the library; books upon books; the science classroom and laboratory was in excellent condition, the assembly hall was spacious. Dreams do come true.

“If you create a vision, believe in your vision, and do everything you can, then it will become a reality

MY CLOSING STATEMENT – PASS ON YOUR SMILE

I leave this message for anyone and that is…. anything is possible if you put your mind to it. Success manifests in different forms, and for us 14 students, a memory has been imprinted on us for life. I know that for sure after reading this you will want this same experience and hopefully I have convinced you in that giving back is so important as it feeds your own mind, body and soul. Madrasati is proving to a ground-breaking project for the future. Children are the future generation and preparing young minds is preparing them for a better life so travel the world and pass on your smile.