Almost three quarters of Jordan’s population is under the age of 30. In a National Youth Survey of the attitudes of 16- to 24-year-olds carried out in 2001, Jordan’s adolescents expressed a priority need for safe spaces where they can participate in recreational, cultural and sporting activities in their free time instead of playing in the streets and watching television. They also expressed the importance of opportunities to develop the knowledge and skills they need to interact with each other and with the community. Girls, in particular, felt constrained by the limitations in their opportunities, as their leisure activities are mainly home-based and involve less physical exercise than boys’ activities. Overall, the percentage of adolescents participating in sports, social and cultural activities is less than 10 per cent.
Youth centres exist throughout Jordan. However, many of them are understaffed and lacking in facilities; they tend to be traditional in their approach and to offer a limited number of activities, mostly recreational. Managed by adults, they give adolescents little or no opportunity to participate in decision making or in planning, implementing and evaluating their own activities. Despite the accessible locations of the youth centres, the number of adolescents attending them is low, partly due to the reluctance of parents to allow or encourage their sons and daughters to attend. As for community involvement, although most centres have a consultative committee made up of parents, community leaders and youth workers, in most cases the committees were found to be inactive.
Strategies used and actions taken
The adolescent-friendly youth centres project was launched in 2006 in partnership with the Higher Council for Youth (HCY), a key service provider for adolescents and youth in Jordan with 74 youth centres spread throughout the kingdom. A pilot project was implemented in six youth centres, three for boys and three for girls. Strategies targeting adolescents, youth workers, parents and the local communities included the following:
The six adolescent-friendly youth centres were created in four marginalized communities so as to increase opportunities for local youth by offering them a variety of activities of enhanced quality and to provide them with the information needed to lead a healthy lifestyle (including prevention of tobacco use and HIV/AIDS) as well as the skills needed to influence their environments and act as positive agents of change. In addition, 950 parents and service providers were trained in the area of adolescents’ participation, development and protection, which contributed to positive communication between the adolescents and their caregivers. Consequently, attendance at the youth centres increased, reaching an average of 600 members per centre, as did parental trust in the centres and their activities.
This programme has generated a number of important lessons for the future. First, the approach used, involving a mixture of skills-training and other activities (health skills, basic life skills, sports, creativity and community involvement), offered adolescent boys and girls a wide range of non-formal learning opportunities that attracted larger numbers of them to the centres than before. In addition, the participatory and peer-to-peer approaches gave youth a sense of ownership of the youth centre and a feeling of responsibility for its activities.
Next, the creation in each youth centre of a pool of trainers and peer educators on such topics as basic life skills, healthy lifestyles and participation broadened the role of the centres, transforming them into community resource centres and mainstreaming their programmes into more general community development programmes. In the future, selecting these trainers and peer educators from within the local communities will contribute to the sustainability of the programmes, enabling them to continue reaching more adolescents and parents through peer-to-peer contact.
Third, including interventions to target parents, such as orientation sessions and workshops on the topic of participation, facilitated the participation of adolescents in the youth centres’ activities, especially that of girls, as the level of trust in the youth centre was increased. Furthermore, adolescent girls reported that their exposure to the basic life skills training made them more capable of voicing their opinions at home and communicating more positively with their parents.
Finally, the various capacity-building trainings that targeted adolescents and staff at the same time, training staff members side by side with the adolescents they usually supervise, brought a new dimension to the staff members’ role, causing them to look more at the adolescents as partners in the programming and running of the youth centre activities. Challenged at first, many youth workers report that working as a team brings more liveliness, enthusiasm and depth to the programmes.
The activities introduced in this project and the approaches used demand a change in the traditional roles of youth workers and adolescents. The attitudes and skills of youth workers will need continued attention in the future to ensure that they are competent and motivated to work in participation with the adolescents.
Healthy lifestyles topics (especially HIV/AIDS) were widely popular among the adolescents, but they remain sensitive issues, approached with caution by parents. More work needs to be done to raise awareness about these issues among parents and adolescents.
Finally, the overall experience of 2006 will be built upon to ensure the sustainability of this initiative. The new approaches introduced will be integrated into future HCY-supported work plans, as will the training manuals used (the Educational Manual on Reproductive Health and HIV/AIDS, the Basic Life Skills Manual for peer educators and the Service Providers Manual on Participation for youth workers). Moreover, the capacities and resources developed by the pilot project provide a good platform to expand and institutionalize adolescent-friendly youth centres in Jordan and beyond. Youth centres have been attracting a lot of attention as centres of positive influence and education for young people, and the successes demonstrated in this programme can be adapted for use by other countries in the region.