Aspiring young global citizens in Jordan

Jordan, February 7, 2011

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One of the best aspects of my job is that I get the chance to hang out with youth in a number of different countries. Yesterday was one of those opportunities, and, as always, I left the gathering feeling energized and inspired. The event was a four-hour kick-off session for a new batch of participants in the Global Citizen Corps (GCC) program, for which I serve as global director. For a variety of reasons, we haven't been able to include GCC Jordan in large funding proposals in the past, and so our local partner here has been implementing the program with small bits of foundation funding we were able to piece together. Witnessing the great work they have done with this relatively small pot of money makes me very excited about what they could accomplish if they had serious funding.

The session began with a getting-to-know-you activity. Each person in the room had a piece of a letter. We all had to find the person that had the other half of our letter, complete our puzzles, then introduce ourselves to one another, and come up with something that we had in common — ideally starting with our shared letter. The young woman who held the other half of my "N" is named May, but she likes to call herself Mayo. She giggled in the affirmative when I asked if she knew that we use this as short-hand for mayonnaise.

May is 19 years old and has begun a degree in social work at Jordan University in Amman. She was stylishly but conservatively dressed in an ankle-length tan suede coat and trendy brown suede boots, with her head snugly wrapped in a woolen scarf that resembled a Scottish tartan in earthtones. As I have learned time and again — and as my interaction with May reinforced — one should not assume that just because a woman is wearing the hijab (head covering) she is reserved or shy. No, in fact, some of the toughest, most dynamic, and most confident women I have ever known wear a head scarf. When May began speaking, she couldn't contain her smile, her spunky personality or her eagerness to be talking with a foreigner.

When I asked her why she joined GCC, she rattled off her reasons, almost breathless in her excitement: "Because I want to make my English better. Because we all have same problems everywhere — every country. Doesn't matter what we wear, what color, what religion. We all have same problems. We all have to work together to solve problems."

"Out of the mouths of babes," as they say.

May and I got up to introduce ourselves to the larger group. We noted that each of us has one brother and one sister, although she is the oldest and I am the baby. As for what we have in common that starts with the letter "N," the best we could come up with was that we are both Nice.

Mr. Deblois, my beloved high school English teacher, would have failed us for that — he banned the use of the "N-word" in our writing. But, in a world with so much enmity and violence, maybe being nice isn't a such bad place to start for aspiring global citizens.