Off we went: 250 teenagers, 18 youth leaders and about 10 staff members loaded on 6 charter buses
. I'm learning Jordanian/Arab student bus trips are not similar to American student bus trips. Hind turns to me and says, "Really, we are loud?...I don't know why we are so loud?" as one of the Youth Leaders screams a deafening SHABBBBABBBB in my ear. They are encouraged to sing, cheer and dance in the aisles. I started to think back to my bus trips to Mt. Vernon, Gettysburg, Seven Springs...yeah, no chaperone was like "Hey Jocelyn can you come to the front of the bus and sing and dance for us." After a 2 hours bus trip, 40 minute hike, a shortage of water, and 250 teenagers only speaking in Arabic around me I have to admit I was thinking what the heck am I doing here. But then my Supervisor offered me a piece of fruit and another staff member offered me some sweets---Jordanians are some of the most genuinely hospitable people I have ever met.
Then one of the youth volunteers came and sat next to me and said "Hello, you must be an American, I can tell by your accent". We talked about his experience as a youth volunteer, his participation in the East West Initiative (http://www.eastwestjordan.com/), his love for physics and studying for the SAT. I told him my little brother is studying for the SAT too! Then he asked me if I was inspired living and studying in the States. I asked him what he meant. He said, you know, does the energy in the US inspire you as you study and plan your future? He said he is working really hard to get high marks in school so he can go to University in the UK or the U.S
. because there is nothing for him in Jordan. He said a lot of his Jordanian friends don't really think about their future, but he is thinking about his future and becoming an engineer. I have to admit at 17 I wasn't really reflecting deeply about my career aspirations either and I was surprised to be having such an insightful conversation with a 17 year old. I later told Hind about the conversation and that this boy had actually inspired me with his aspirations and determination.
As the day progressed and I watched him and the rest of the youth put on creative skits, reflect on their volunteer work and receive certificates of excellence I realized how important this JRF program is in giving the youth the space to work together, be creative, and express themselves. They are a proud, insightful and talented generation of Jordanians.
Yesterday Hind (my Supervisor) and I joined the Jordan River Foundation summer Youth Volunteers on a trip to Ajloun Forest Reserve (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ajloun_Forest_Reserve) to celebrate their 3 weeks of hard work, community service and creating bonds between East and West Amman. The youth apply to be a part of the JRF summer program and when selected they are put in to groups that mix kids from all over the Kingdom. Each group is assigned to 1 of 14 sites around Amman either working with local children doing art, drama, and music or rehabilitating schools by cleaning and painting. The program has grown very quickly so the JRF now recruits Youth Leaders that are 18-25 years old to carry out the program for the youth volunteers and relieve the staff of some of the logistical and day to day tasks.