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Beauty salons and community development mix well in Aqaba, Jordan

© UNICEF Jordan/2004/Vergara
Nayfeh says she may run for office in Jordan.

By Marc Vergara

AQABA, 25 August 2004 – She hears it all the time even from people she’s just met: “You should run for office,” people tell Nayfeh when they meet her in the streets of Shalaleh, a poor area of Jordan’s only port, Aqaba.

“All sorts of people come up to me for advice,” says the 28-year-old. “They want to know how to find a place for children in kindergartens, where to go for health services, how to start a business, how to tackle domestic violence or drug abuse….”

Nayfeh is a role model and a perfect example of how UNICEF’s community development approach is paying dividends. Nayfeh’s community is in dire need of development: Shalaleh has a population of 20,000 registered refugees who fled Palestine in 1948 and 1967. Palestinian refugees who came to the Kingdom in 1948 have been granted Jordanian passports, while those coming from Gaza in 1967 were given temporary passports.

The area has open sewage systems, high rates of poverty and unemployment, early marriages, high birth rates with most women delivering at home, and only one health centre and two schools. Drug use is rampant. Young boys exchange sexual favours for cigarettes.

Nayfeh regularly visited the UNICEF-sponsored Community Development Centre Association for seven years. She learned practical skills such as sewing, hairdressing and make-up application. She also learned about rights and about networking, turning her into a very accomplished and assertive woman.

“It was my dream to come to this centre,” she remembers. “At the time, it was difficult for girls to go to this centre, but once I started, others quickly followed.” She trained 21 young beauticians and set up her own beauty salon. It is not a coincidence that she chose a profession where she gets to meet other women.

“A woman with skills can earn money and this can only be good news for the family,” she enthuses. “But it goes beyond that. A woman with skills and knowledge about her rights will question and even challenge attitudes.” With a big smile on her face, she remembers the day when a woman told her about her violent husband. “I told her to go to the Family Protection Department. Her husband got scared and left her alone.”

Asked if she has ever been threatened, Nayfeh replies: “A smile or a frown is enough to deal with most situations.” Indeed she has a lovely smile and a very credible frown.

The Community Development programme is based on cooperation among UNICEF, government authorities, non-govermental organizations and local communities. UNICEF supports the provision of training workshops on vocational skills for unemployed youth; many of them have become electricians, mechanics, hotel staff, carpenters, hair-dressers, etc. 

Volunteers are trained for working with the Community Action Committees. The volunteers conduct research on the situation of children, on teamwork or leadership concepts, on disability and responses to it.

“Of course it is sometimes frustrating when you consider the task ahead,” says Nayfeh. “But we have achieved a few things too. With our houses so close to each other, it was very difficult to establish a decent sewage system, but now it is being installed. We had no rubbish collection containers, now we do.” Small victories, but each one is a morale booster for the community and its role models.

“I used to be shy and scared,” says Nayfeh. “But I hope that the next time you see me I will be a candidate in the elections.”




25 August 2004: Video report on UNICEF’s community development approach in Aqaba, Jordan.

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