The main road leading into this small urban center in Jordan’s agricultural belt is flanked by plastic covered greenhouses and vendors selling freshly-picked tomatoes, cauliflower, and cucumbers.

While agricultural productivity in the region has increased seven-fold in recent years due to enhanced growing techniques, youth here in Mallaha lack opportunities to develop their potential. Young women, in particular, have few chances to pursue their interests and enhance their skills. With support from Youth:Work Jordan (YWJ), that’s beginning to change with community-based organizations (CBOs) offering a holistic menu of services, including life skills, IT, and technical training.

Youth:Work Jordan is a five-year initiative of the US Agency for International Development, the International Youth Foundation (IYF), and the Jordanian Ministry of Social Development. Working in partnership with the public, private, and civil society sectors, YWJ seeks to create an enabling environment for disadvantaged youth through improving youth employability practices and policies, strengthening the capacity of youth-serving organizations, and engaging youth in developing their communities.

“The training gave us something to do,” says 22-year-old Rawan, who attended a two-week life skills course and beautician classes offered through the Al Balawneh Society, a local CBO and YWJ partner. Rawan, who pursued health studies in secondary school, always dreamed of being a nurse. When she failed the Tawjihi, the secondary education certification exam, her goal seemed unattainable.

Now, with the encouragement she received in the life skills training and placement assistance from Al Balawneh, Rawan has secured a job caring for disabled children at a residential facility in Amman, where she lives for eight days at a time, before returning home for three.  Rawan was offered a starting salary of 150JD (US$210) per month, which is expected to increase to 180JD after six months.

“Working in Amman is an adventure. I’ve always enjoyed going to other places,” says Rawan, who is the only one of her friends to currently have a job. “A lot of families don’t let their girls work, especially away from home,” she says. 

“The girls who took the life skills training recognize that there’s much they can do they didn’t know about,” she adds. “While some parents don’t want their daughters to pursue higher education and jobs, others are changing their attitudes. I’d love to be able to develop more and more and not have women always told ‘no, no.’”

Recognizing that some parents are reluctant to let their daughters work over concerns for their safety, YWJ partners are incorporating awareness-raising sessions for parents into their work, says Nizar Slaiby, Field Coordinator for the Jordan River Foundation, which is overseeing YWJ’s implementation in the Jordan Valley.

Twenty-four year-old Wejdan also took advantage of the opportunities offered through YWJ in Mallaha, completing four weeks of IT training, two weeks of life skills instruction, and six months of sewing classes. Now, she’s working as a coordinator at the That Al Nitaqain Society, a local CBO.

“The life skills training taught me how to deal with other people, to solve problems, and pursue my goals,” says Wejdan, one of ten children in her family. “I feel more at ease with myself.”

With jobs hard to come by in Mallaha, Wejdan is happy to be making 150JD per month, much of which she gives to her parents to help support her family. Over time, she hopes to start her own sewing business.

Samah, 20, also finished high school; yet like the Wejdan and Rawan, failed to pass the Tawjihi. Now, she’s enrolled in a fifty-day pastry-making course through Al Balawneh, having already completed workshops in IT and basic English.

“Over the seven months between failing the exam and enrolling in the technical training, all I did was eat and watch TV,” says Samah, with a modest grin. Now, she has a passion to pursue: running her own pastry business. The life skills helped Samah overcome self-doubts.

“I’m more confident now about my goals and defending my interests,” she says. “I wish I could benefit from more trainings like this.”