An idea to transform people's views on rural people and traditional charity methods has grown into a ground-breaking initiative in Jordan.
Zikra for Popular Learning, one of three winners of the UNESCO Japan Prize on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) in 2017, is now looking at ways to expand its highly popular programme which brings people from urban settings to rural villages to learn first-hand about sustainable development.
Co-founded by social entrepreneurs Rabee Zureika and fellow Jordanian Lama Khatieb, Zikra promotes 'exchange tourism' offering alternative learning to reconnect people with local knowledge.
"I began to think about giving back using a model that did not impose the 'hero-victim' relationship on the recipient. Instead we work to get people inspired – both Jordanians and visitors from other countries – by encouraging them to stop considering rural people as simply ‘poor’ and to motivate positive behaviour changes in participants,” says Rabee.
Zikra began in Ghor Al-Mazara'a, a village 100km south-bet of Jordan's capital Amman and in one of the country's poorest regions where the inhabitants are discriminated against because of their dark skin colour.
To enhance the livelihoods of the villagers Zikra has supported them to welcome visitors who come to learn and engage with the local community. They pay a small amount to spend time in the village learning about food production, culture, and how best to use natural resources.
"One of Zikra's most successful outcomes are the relationships and networks constructed between rural and urban community members," said Lama.
The visitors do more than observe craftsmen like Khaled Nawasrah who builds artistic and intricate models of cars using wire, they get to try their hand at the skills too.
The project has also established the School of Jameed drawing on local women's expertise in making a range of dairy products including the yoghurt traditionally produced in the area called Jameed.
The women demonstrate the production of the yoghurt to visitors while teaching them about the wild plants and herbs special to the area that are used in its making.
Despite challenges including accessing the very rural settings for the scheme and often fighting against slow bureaucracy Rabee and Lama are full of enthusiasm and ideas for the future.
Since winning the Prize, Zikra has further developed an embroidery project working with female Syrian refugees who stitch storyboards based on local knowledge and stories from their hometown onto products such as bags which they then sell.
They also plan a programme for architecture students to learn techniques used in the villages to build houses, roofing and ventilation systems using mud bricks.
"We have found here that everyone has something to offer," says Rabee.
The winners of this year's award, the 2018 UNESCO-Japan Prize on ESD, will be announced in September with an award ceremony to be held in Paris in October. The Prize, funded by the Government of Japan, consists of three annual awards of USD 50,000 for each recipient. It was awarded for the first time by the Director-General of UNESCO in 2015.
The Prize and award winners recognize the role of education in connecting the social, economic, cultural and environmental dimensions of sustainable development.
Read the full story about Zikra for Popular learning.