Makani centres – a safe space to learn and make new friends

Aisha and Yasmeen, from diverse backgrounds and speaking different languages, learn to understand each other

Sara AlHattab & AbdelMajid El-Noaimi
Two girls sit together at a classroom table
UNICEF-Herwig

02 October 2019

“I consider Aisha to be my sister because she is so good to me, as if I am her real sister and I love her as much as my real sisters.”

Yasmeen, 7

Yasmeen is a Syrian refugee whose family sought refuge in Jordan, settling in Ar Rajib neighbourhood in the capital Amman. Her neighbour Aisha, also 7 years old, is from a marginalized Jordanian minority community known as the Dom. Despite being Jordanian citizens, the Dom community face discrimination and lack proper protection. Children in particular, face violence and bullying and barriers to joining their peers in school.

While Yasmeen speaks Arabic, Aisha only speaks Turkman. Despite the language barrier,  Yasmeen was drawn to Aisha’s smile and the girls have become best friends despite their cultural differences.

“When we first met, I didn’t understand anything she said”, says Yasmeen. “Over time I taught her some Arabic and she is teaching me some of her language too.”

 

 

Both girls have faced challenges enrolling in formal education so neither goes to school. But every morning they join other children from the neighbourhood on a bus, which takes them to their local Makani centre, supported by UNICEF and the EU Trust Fund, less than two kilometres away. Their place of learning for the past few years, the centre is also a space where Yasmeen and Aisha feel comfortable together.

 

A place to feel secure

Makani (‘My Space’ in Arabic) centres provide a safe space for children and young people to access learning opportunities, child protection and other critical services.

Yasmeen and Aisha attend Learning Support classes at the centre, where they study Maths and Arabic. It is also where Aisha gets extra reading and writing support from both her facilitators and her best friend.

“Yasmeen is the one who came to me and became my friend. We learn here and play together. We take Arabic and Maths class together. We’re learning Arabic letters right now. It’s easy. We’ll be able to speak more.”

Children sit at a classroom table as a teacher writes on the whiteboard
UNICEF-Herwig

Learning from each other

Nadeen Maharmah is the girls’ Arabic facilitator. She explains that the centre is enhancing social relations among the children and encouraging the communities to learn from each other, whether through language exchange, television shows or games.

“The biggest issue is the lack of integration,” Nadeen says. “It’s normal to have 12 and 13-year-olds with no reading or writing skills because they’ve never been to school."

Makani centres play a key role in identifying children who are facing challenges to enroll in education and referring them to UNICEF and the Ministry of Education for enrollment in formal and non-formal education. 

An integrated approach

Without their local Makani centre, supported by the EU Trust Fund in partnership with UNICEF, Yasmeen and Aisha would be missing out on an education, putting them at greater risk of negative coping measures, including child marriage.

“It is very important for us to make sure these children feel that the centre is a safe place for all of them, and to make it feel like home, otherwise they would simply choose not to come here too.”

Nadeen, Makani centre facilitator

Meanwhile Yasmeen and Aisha’s friendship continues to grow as they sit side by side in their Arabic class, discovering new words to describe their friendship without boundaries or discrimination.   

Thanks to generous support from the EU Trust Fund, UNICEF continues to reach the most marginalized boys and girls in Jordan, including children from the Dom community, with integrated services.