Multicultural Amman: Engaging Jordan’s Youth (Part 1)

إشراك جيل الشباب الأردني في التعلم عن ماضي عمّان وتعدد ثقافاتها (ممول من المعهد البريطاني

Ross Wilkinson, Learning and Engagement Manager, reflects on an ongoing collaborative learning project which stretches from Durham to Jordan:

Back in the heady pre-lockdown days of August 2018, I received an email from a colleague in Archaeology, Dr. Arwa Badran Arwa asked to meet as she was putting funding towards a project to help youth engagement in museums and needed the support of the Learning and Engagement Team. I had worked with Arwa previously on the Museum and Artefacts MA course, and at this point I assumed a simple engagement with local partner museums in the region or possibly wider, nationally…  

We met up at the Palatine Restaurant for a coffee and Arwa put the project proposal to me. To work with the Government, universities, a whole host of public and private museums and heritage groups in developing a training package with museums to engage school groups and communities of all ages in Jordan. The second element was that using my previous work as a primary school teacher and current role on the Learning and Engagement Team at Durham University, could I be a project partner and lead the training development with colleagues in Jordan? Slightly confused, amazed and excited all at the same time I said what any welltrained member of the department would say; ‘I’ll have to check with my senior management team’. In light of the university’s want for public international engagement and the fact it is a project funded by the AHRC Jordan strand Newton Khalidi Fund, it was a very quick yes approval from my management. After a meeting with the UK project lead, Professor Robin Skeates, plans were afoot to begin the two-year project.  

By March 2019 we were Jordan bound to establish interest, gain partners and to scope out the situation and best practice of public engagement in the heritage sector amongst the younger generations. Landing at Queen Alia Airport just outside of Amman at approximately 12.30 am and driving along the deserted motorways through the Jordanian countryside to the sprawling urban centre of Amman was perhaps one of the most amazing experiences. The lit up green minarets of the mosques scattered amongst the dark hills; the undulating flow of urban expanse across the hills and valleys of the Amman cityscape, a mix of glistening lit up skyscrapers, stone traditional façades and balconied apartment blocks.  

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Amman Skyline

The first morning we got straight to work; across four days we visited the Jordan and Hashemite Universities and university museums, had meetings with the Department for Education and Antiquities, developed partnerships with public museums such as the Jordan Archaeological, Madaba, Amphitheatre and other cultural museums. We began planning the training with our partners at the Jordan, Royal Automobile and the Children’s Museums and Sela for vocational training and protection of cultural heritage. The heritage sites we visited and countryside we drove through were incredible. Driving north on the actual road to Damascus to the Hashemite University; standing on the Tel Hisban Acropolis having a guided tour from a Bedouin; having a meeting in the Wild Jordan Conservation Charity restaurant overlooking the Amman Acropolis at night with its enormous ruined colonnade of the Temple of Hercules standing tall.  

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Amman Citadel from Wild Jordan Conservation Charity Restaurant

We now had our 15 partners and the beginnings of a relationship between public, private and university sector. It also became clear that we needed to ensure true partnership and a shared learning experience. No one organisation was to be held in higher regard to the other and we certainly did not want to be seen as the UK coming in and telling everyone what to do, far from it. This must be collaborative. The biggest challenge personally is all training had to be in Arabic (fair enough), but I don’t speak any, so poor Arwa had to be both the project lead co-ordinator and translator.  

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Say cheese! Our project partners.

Returning to the UK was surreal. It felt like my four working days in Jordan were a blur. No matter, normality must resume and planning the first element of training to begin.  

July 2019 saw the first element of training in Jordan: a four-day training programme in multiple venues. The day before the training found Arwa and I running around downtown Amman finding the resources we needed in some of the most amazingly small yet full stationary shops off the main streets!  

The first training day was hosted by the Royal Tank Museum. We had 42 attendees from across the sector, all wanting to begin engaging with schools and communities. For many of these curators this was the first formal training they had had as most study a degree in archaeology rather than formal museum practice. Not many museums offer school trips outside of the private museum sector, so this was an amazing turn out! We focussed on what is a museum and who engages with them. This saw presentations from Sela and the Department of Antiquities.  

Day two focussed on the role of the Learning Officer and partnerships with universities for placements with practical sessions from the Children’s Museum, Jordan Museum and myself and a talk from students at the Hashemite University. 

Day three was at the As-Salt Historical Museum and we had practical skills sessions on museum care, interpretation and conservation from the Jordan Museum Curator and the only lecturer in conservation in Jordan from the University of Jordan.  

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Dead Sea Scross Fragment, Jordan Museum

Day four was hosted at the Jordan Museum which started with a practical exploration of the customer services there and then a final debate chaired by myself and Arwa and hosted by the 15 partners about what we had learned. An award ceremony took place for all those who completed the training. 

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Panel discussion

Watch out for part 2 of this blog post to find out what happened when our Jordanian counterparts visited sunny North-East England!

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