Before joining ACOR’s Temple of the Winged Lions (TWL) project, Ahmad Mowasa thought little of the impressive ruins that surround his village of Umm Seyhoun near Petra. “Before, I did not care. I sold objects I found, like other people. I did not know about the meaning of heritage.” But after two years of working with the TWL project and learning how to properly preserve Petra’s antiquities, Ahmad’s perspective changed considerably. “If you love something you don’t sell it, you keep it. Keep something as heritage for your kids. It is for us!”
Ahmad’s transformation epitomizes the spirit of USAID SCHEP’s new Site Steward program, which empowers host community members to act as representatives and caretakers for the cultural heritage sites their communities interact with on a daily basis. Ahmad is one of 10 “site stewards” selected by SCHEP to educate host communities, tourists, and various Jordanian and international stakeholders about the sites and places where they live. The stewards hail from several towns and villages where SCHEP is supporting site development and vocational training initiatives, including Umm al-Jimal in northern Jordan, Ghor al-Safi at the south end of the Dead Sea, Busayra just south of Tafila, Bi’r Mathkour in Wadi Araba, and Umm Seyhoun and Wadi Musa in Petra.
Learn more about ACOR’s new SCHEP initiative. Read Erin Addison’s blog article
“Introducing SCHEP: Sustainable Cultural Heritage through Engagement of Local Communities Project.”
In late July, ACOR hosted a three-day workshop for the new site stewards, encouraging them to learn, discuss, and get to know their sites, their responsibilities, and each other a little better. In addition to receiving introductions to ACOR, USAID, and the core objectives of SCHEP, the stewards learned about the Jordanian antiquities law from Department of Antiquities (DOA) officials and were briefed on the role of the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities (MOTA) in preserving and promoting heritage sites in Jordan. The stewards also participated in many lively discussions about the meaning and importance of community participation in site conservation, preservation, and development, including a round-table discussion led by H.E. Hassan al-Rehaibeh, mayor of Umm al-Jimal.
The workshop also offered more hands-on, interactive learning opportunities. Each steward received a Samsung digital tablet, which allowed them to complete training exercises using Google Earth and MEGA Jordan. Going forward, the stewards will use the tablets to learn about their sites as well as to document site-related activities and events. In addition, the workshop featured an afternoon visit to Amman’s Jabal al-Qala’, where the stewards learned about the joint USAID-ACOR project to restore the site’s majestic Roman temple, as well as ongoing efforts by USAID, the DOA, and MOTA to conserve and present the site to Jordanian and international audiences.
One of the workshop’s major accomplishments, however, was simply bringing together young people from across Jordan who are concerned about preserving the country’s heritage. Despite not knowing each other before the workshop, the stewards quickly engaged in discussion and conversation and shared with each other, often well into the night, their feelings about their sites, their communities, as well as their own personal ambitions. All agreed that one of the site steward’s chief responsibilities is communicating the importance of the site to host community members as well as visitors and tourists. Muaffaq al-Masaeed, a site steward from Umm al-Jimal, for example, is working with various local and international stakeholders to ensure the site becomes a cultural heritage destination for Jordan. “I grew up next to the site and have many friends in archaeology,” said Muaffaq. “I want people to know Umm al-Jimal, it is an amazing site!”
For Safa’ al-Rfooh, a site steward from Busayra, the workshop was also an opportunity to learn how to present the site to various stakeholders. Most enjoyable for her was an exercise that allowed participants to give short presentations about their sites to their fellow stewards. After what she learned in the workshop, Safa’ believes she is well prepared to take on the duties of the site steward position. “I want to experience everything in this job about archaeology and I want to learn everything I can,” she said.
“[This workshop] was mainly about sharing and exchanging knowledge and we really hit the target, more than we expected,” said Huda Kilani, SCHEP Capacity Building Lead and co-organizer of the workshop with SCHEP colleague Abdelrahman al-Nasarat. Indeed, it was the workshop’s emphasis on knowledge sharing and open-minded discussion and debate that seems to have most resonated with the stewards. “It is important to encourage people and not just tell them what they [are doing] wrong,” said Ahmad, who then immediately asked if there would be another opportunity for the stewards to meet. Safa’ quickly added, “Yes, I want to come again!”
Written by Wiebke Lepke and Glenn J. Corbett
Wiebke Lepke is a student of archaeology who has an ACOR internship in the summer of 2015 to support the Temple of the Winged Lions project.
Glenn J. Corbett is the Associate Director of ACOR.
This blog article is not official U.S. Government information and does not necessarily represent the views or positions of the U.S. Agency for International Development or the U.S. Government.