It was nearly a week after the end of the 13th International Conference on the History and Archaeology of Jordan (ICHAJ), and the students who attended were still buzzing. Four Jordanian university students, selected to attend the conference through the USAID Sustainable Cultural Heritage Through Engagement of Local Communities Project (SCHEP), gathered at ACOR to discuss what they had learned and how they could carry their experiences forward.
“I mean, it was just so cool! We used to read [Megan Perry’s articles] all the time in class and then there she was right in front of us!” gushed Aveen Qatameen, a master’s student of physical anthropology at the University of Jordan. Aveen is one of 15 SCHEP Scholars, high achieving students from across Jordan who received scholarships to attend ICHAJ.
Another SCHEP Scholar, Thaer Shawabkeh of Hashemite University, was similarly enthusiastic. “USAID SCHEP gave me the opportunity of a lifetime to attend the conference. I saw the work that was being done at the archaeological sites in Madaba [where I’m from], where I did not know people were still active,” said Thaer. “Being engaged this way with the scientific community gave me the strength and support to continue my course of study without paying attention to the constraints of society.”
The discussion continued along this vein, as the students eagerly chatted about their plans for staying involved in the field. Their ideas varied from pursuing advanced degrees to organizing trash pick-ups at the sites or teaching their friends and families about Jordan’s history. They were excited to showcase their country’s heritage and wanted to make sure their whole communities were involved in this effort.
For USAID SCHEP, conversations like this are exactly what we’re trying to do. USAID SCHEP aims to preserve, manage, and promote cultural heritage resources in Jordan using a unique community-first approach. Part of this mission includes making archaeology and heritage more accessible, to bring those outside the traditional academic circles into the conversation. By engaging the next generation of heritage professionals and advocates, we hope to empower them to be guardians of Jordan’s trove of cultural heritage resources.
In service of this goal, USAID SCHEP also worked to ensure that the site stewards from USAID SCHEP’s five project sites were able to attend the conference as well. Site stewards are another unique aspect of the USAID SCHEP approach. Part local site manager and part community liaison, site stewards are members of the host communities who act as a vital link between USAID SCHEP, the project directors, and the larger host communities. Their presence ensures that the host communities remain the ultimate beneficiaries of USAID SCHEP activities.
Site stewards, along with dozens of other trainees at USAID SCHEP project sites, learn best practices in conservation and cultural resources management (CRM). After training in masonry, surveying, documentation, and other CRM-related vocational skills, they are qualified to work in projects beyond their own site, thereby providing them with a broader range of economic opportunities.
Attending ICHAJ gave the site stewards the opportunity to augment those skills by learning from leading CRM experts. Eman Abdesalaam, site steward for the Temple of the Winged Lions in Petra who also serves as the project’s documentation specialist, was particularly excited to attend a workshop on documentation. “It’s so important for my work for me to attend,” said Eman. “I need to see how everyone does this work, not just the people working on our project.” Eman is a perfect example of what USAID SCHEP seeks to achieve in host communities—a sense of ownership over cultural heritage and a passion for conserving sites and sharing their stories with the world.
Eman also served as an ambassador of the USAID SCHEP model to the rest of the conference. She gave a presentation on her work with USAID SCHEP and Sela, the local non-profit company that she and fellow site steward Ahmad Mowasa founded in July 2015 along with other members of the Temple of the Winged Lions team. Sela for Vocational Training and Protection of Cultural Heritage specializes in administering and managing cultural heritage preservation training programs, as well as providing professional development opportunities in site conservation, restoration, and maintenance. Eman shared the stage at ICHAJ with some of the leading voices in archaeology, including the project directors of all five USAID SCHEP sites, who presented on their work integrating community engagement with academic research.
To ensure that all attendees could understand and appreciate the values of these lectures, USAID SCHEP sponsored simultaneous translation services in both English and Arabic. Breaking down language barriers is a vital step to maximizing accessibility and ensuring that all those interested can appreciate and grasp the latest methods in archaeology and cultural resources management.
ICHAJ happens every three years, bringing together academics who have been working on archaeological sites in Jordan for most of their careers. This year, USAID SCHEP was proud to introduce some new faces. Too often archaeology is relegated to classrooms or seasonal digs, rather than an ongoing and inclusive conversation. By bringing in more members of the host communities, USAID SCHEP is helping to ensure that the conservation of these sites is sustainable and ongoing, and not dependent on academic schedules or grant funding. Furthermore, USAID SCHEP is allowing more people to enjoy the truly incredible stories of the people and places that surround Jordan’s past.
SCHEP Scholar Muthana Abu Diab summed it up best. “USAID SCHEP is our umbrella, underneath it we are linked: students, residents, and specialists … It motivated me to know more about the archaeological treasures that we have, and all those waiting to be discovered. Cultural heritage gives me an added self-respect when I see all that I have inherited.”
Written by Sofia Smith, USAID SCHEP Communications Officer
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.