As a young girl in the 1980s, Safa relished the time she and her father spent together. One day they went to see a concert. On stage was a child performer, an Arab like herself. Safa sat mesmerized by the prodigy. The stage presence and confidence she exuded intrigued her as she imagined what it must be like to command a stage and inspire people. This wonderment sustained her, and, despite the social barriers she had to face while growing up with a disability, Safa determined to realize her dreams.
Then, in early adulthood, her father passed away.
“My father was my right hand,” she explains. “I withdrew into myself and away from the community.”
As weeks drifted into months, Safa grappled with mourning. Then she noticed an advertisement inviting people to join a local theatre troupe. It reminded her of her childhood dreams and the joy she felt watching that young singer. She immediately applied. That advertisement would change her life.
Art Theatre Troupe is a funded by UNDP via MATEEN, the Kingdom of Jordan’s first and largest non-profit network focused on building civil society. It uses theatre to help people express themselves and build stronger communities.
“I was worried they might reject me,” Safa recalls. “I had been rejected for jobs in the past due to my disability. Most spaces are not disabled-friendly.”
Fortunately, her fears were unfounded. The theatre community welcomed her into their fold.
“The project allowed me to engage with other people in a way I’d never done before. The community had so many people of different religions, nationalities and backgrounds. For many of them, it was the first time they’d collaborated with a person with a disability. I inspired and got inspired by those around me,” she says.
Safa found her voice and even wrote her first short sketch for a play called ‘The Maestro’. Performing it live filled her with pride and a sense of accomplishment.
“I am not a failure! I am a girl, like all girls. I have a right to study, to work, to achieve my ambitions, and to live in peace!” she says confidently in her sketch.
“People with disabilities can excel at anything. We just need an opportunity, much like the one I had. Today, when I see myself in the mirror, I see a successful performer and an influential activist.”
A mother of seven and widowed in her 40s, Hanan struggled to provide for her family.
“I am a fighter,” she says. “The most important thing for me is to work so that my children never need a thing.”
UNDP funds the Women and Administration Project at Kinana Women’s Society, an initiative supporting 364 women and focusing on addressing their economic needs. The programmes include training and workshops on agriculture, food production, craft-making and fabric and accessory recycling.
Hanan proved to be a natural. “My father was a farmer. I love the earth and feel very connected to it.”
Hanan learned composting, tree trimming and herb growing. She applied this knowledge to 1,000 square metres of land and created her own sustainable business. She is now living off her land and supporting her family.
“Isn’t it better to eat your own produce and live off your hard work?,” she says with pride. “It’s a beautiful feeling.”
Like most people, Huda did not set out to become a drug addict. A conflation of circumstances, a desire for relief, a lack of knowledge, and poor choices led her into a lifestyle she would quickly come to regret.
It all began innocently. Waiting at the medical clinic, Huda struck up a conversation with a stranger. The two women began to meet over coffee. Huda shared her psychological and physical concerns with her new friend. She was in pain and the woman gave Huda a pill, saying it would take care of her problems. At first, it seemed to. Huda felt better, but she needed more and more of the pills to keep feeling better. Before she knew it, she was hooked.
“I stopped caring about my family or friends; all I cared about was getting to that woman,” she says.
Huda lives in Husn Camp, which houses 30,000 people in just one square kilometre. This densely populated community was intended, in 1968, as an emergency housing facility for 12,500 refugees. Khalid, vice president of Al-Zuhour Society for Social Development notes that, “in such a context, drug abuse spreads quickly”.
With UNDP’s support, the Al-Zuhour Society launched the Combating Drug Abuse and Rehabilitating Addicts Project. Huda attended workshops and learned about the effects of drugs and addiction.
“I approached Khalid and confided in him, asking that he keep it confidential. He did,” she explains.
“We have the means to identify, treat and offer long-term counseling and support to drug addicts. People approach us with no shame, and we have gained our community’s trust,” Khalid says.
Today, Huda revels in her life of sobriety as a dedicated mother and activist working with young women facing similar challenges.
“I have been given a second chance,” she says. “I will use it to make sure my children and other children never go down the path I once did.”
Photos and story: UNDP Jordan