In the heart of the Royal Village of Zarqa, overlooking a sea of beige buildings, spans a 20-meter mural depicting a picturesque landscape. Winding its way through the scene is the Jordan River, and in the distance stands a mosque. To the right, a large painted feather pen invites viewers to write their own futures.
Twenty young men and women participants in the Youth:Work Jordan (YWJ) program spent two months conceiving of and completing the elaborate mural.
A five-year initiative of the US Agency for International Development, the International Youth Foundation (IYF), and the Jordanian Ministry of Social Development, 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.
Over a period of two months, the YWJ youth were trained by a team of American muralists, led by the artist Scott McIntyre, who guided them in the fine art of urban mural painting. The activity, implemented under the auspices of the Jordan River Foundation, sought to empower and motivate the youth to serve their community by beautifying their surroundings.
Inspired by the culture of the local community and the notion of national identity in Jordan, the mural also features a gallery of individual paintings created by the youth: a wolf, scenes from Petra, a flower arrangement.
“I honed my painting skills and learned how to scale up a small drawing onto a larger canvas,” enthused Shadi. “I left this project with new friends, and more importantly, a greater understanding of what team spirit is.”
The project not only revealed the talents of the YWJ youth, but opened doors for other youth from the community to get involved. Sam, age 18, dropped by the mural and was instantly drawn to the hardworking young volunteers who spent afternoons under the sizzling sun to transform their local park into a welcome space for young Jordanians and their families to spend quality time. Practicing his English-speaking skills, Sam volunteered to serve as Scott’s translator and logistics assistant. Later, he offered to guard the mural and be on the lookout for any damage to its facade.
The active involvement of the community further contributed to the initiative’s success. The Mayor of Zarqa visited the mural upon its completion and asked that lights be installed to illuminate the space at night.
Mr. Fadi M’aaytah, Royal Village Manager, informed YWJ that ever since the completion of the mural, families from Zarqa and visitors assemble in front of the wall to take pictures, with local youth requesting that similar initiatives be launched.
Marwa, another YWJ participant, loved learning how to draw three-dimensional figures and mix colors—all in a supportive environment where the trainers placed a premium on creativity as opposed to perfection. For Marwa, the best part was how her family reacted to the painting. “Nobody expected it to look like this. Nobody believed that we were capable of doing it,” she exclaimed. “Now they look at us differently and say great things about us!”
The journey does not end here for these youth, as they have earned the title of “Young Ambassadors of Paint and Light.” Each will now spread the spirit of volunteerism through training fellow YWJ participants in the Jordan Valley about how to replicate their experience.