Our Personal Reflections
What I wish everyone could see….
by Farah Amjad
Why are you even here?
There’s no point of helping these kids.
It was towards the near end of our Voices of the Future program. We, the program staff, had joined the older male students in our program on a quick tour of the Gueria neighborhood, where the program was being held, to look at some possible walls for our big service project which involved the assembling of a Green Wall out of plants placed into recycled bottles. As we looked at one potential wall, a man approached us asking what we were doing in the neighborhood. We told him we were here to help the youth in the area. The man was pretty skeptical, asking for more details and then declaring that “there’s no point of helping these kids.” According to the man, the kids were beyond our help.
The man’s classification of the students as failure was irritating indeed, but I was also understanding of his opinion. During the first week of our Voices of the Future program, I too could have assumed that the students were beyond our help.
In the beginning, I was not sure whether our program curriculum, which we had spent months developing, would improve and empower our students. As we learned about the stories and experiences of our students, such as of the Syrian students who can recall memories of their burning homes during the war or of the Jordanian students who have consistently been reminded of the limitations of their dreams, I was overwhelmed by the scale of complexities that the students’ lives were intertwined in. I was further discouraged when the group of older boys I was working with showed hesitancy to fully participate in the program activities. I could not understand why the boys were being rowdy and not putting effort into a program they had joined on their own will. This and my limited knowledge of the Arabic language made the first few days of the program a frustrating experience in which I was starting to doubt our program’s capability to make a substantial difference in the students’ lives.
What changed my perspective on our ability to help our students were the students themselves. As the weeks progressed and we dwelled deeper into our activities, I realized why my initial skepticism was mistaken. I was expecting the students to participate in the program in a certain manner without realizing that most of our students living in an underserved neighborhood like Gureia never had participated in a program like Voices of the Future before.
Through our program, the students were exploring ideas and activities that were quite new to them. Before the program, the Jordanian native and Syrian refugee students were living in the same neighborhood without much interaction. Though during the program, they sat next to each other learning English, exploring art, discussing important issues of identity and community, working together to make their neighborhood a safer space for all. As most of our students either attended deteriorating public schools or no schools at all, the disciplinary etiquette and the vast resources of our program offered them a chance to see what possibilities good schooling could provide. The guests, from artists to motivational speakers, who came to the program showed the students that their dreams and futures were not limited to the premises of their current circumstances. The students learned that with hard work they could surpass their daily struggles and defy others’ presumptions about their futures as refugees or the youth of a struggling neighborhood.
It was through working with the students that I overcame by initial skepticism about the students and our potential to make a difference. I wish the man who classified our students as “failures” could also witness the passion and effort our girls and boys put into learning weekly English vocabulary, writing poems and stories, and discussing intimate issues. I wish the man could read some of our gifted student writers’ work, such as Imani Qasim’s poem and reflections on Syria or Rashed Bakhri’s community manifesto. I wish the man had joined us on our service day when the boys and girls worked together to build the neighborhood’s Green Wall. I wish the man could see the smiles on our and the community members faces when the wall was finished and was taken care by our students everyday afterwards, despite others’ insisting that the wall would not last a day.
The Voices of the Future program’s essence exists in its students. We designed the program aiming to empower the students to believe in their potential as future leaders and stakeholders of their community. If anything, I strongly believe that our students did realize they do hold the potential to transform their community and families. Through our program, we helped them explore some avenues, such as education, art, dialogue, and leadership, through which they could shape their futures for the better. The work is not done for neither the students nor us. The students need more resources, better schools, community facilities, and additional programs like the Voices of the Future to continue on their self and community empowerment journeys.