Conservation work at three cultural heritage sites in Mafraq, northern Jordan, is expected to begin in mid-July. UNESCO announced it during a meeting of the technical committee to discuss plans for maintenance and tourism development of the targeted sites. Funded by the EU’s Madad Regional Trust Fund, the interventions are managed by UNESCO in partnership with the ILO and the Department of Antiquities to support livelihoods through the development of cultural heritage. The project was designed to respond to the Syrian crisis, the impact of which is particularly severe in the governorates of Mafraq and Irbid.
Speaking at the technical meeting of the project partners, the Minister of Tourism and Antiquities, His Excellency Mr. Nayef Al Fayez, said: “It is important to work together to achieve significant results for the communities living around the cultural heritage sites that are preserved in northern Jordan.
And Professor Fadi Bala’awi, Director General of the Department of Antiquities said: “We must preserve these sites which are part of our past, our heritage and if well managed, can also be part of our future. We are grateful for this partnership with the EU, UNESCO and ILO, it is an innovative approach to the conservation of sites with the participation of local communities who are the true guardians of our heritage.
The EU-funded project began with activities at Umm Qais, one of the Decapolis sites in northern Jordan and the nearby Bronze Age site of Tall Zira’a, where 259 Jordanian refugees and Syrians were employed to carry out grassroots interventions in site conservation and tourism development. . Umm Qais is a large archaeological site but previously tourists could not appreciate it on a large scale as they mainly concentrated their visit around the central section of the Roman colonnaded street and the southern theater and rarely visited the northern and western sections of the site where equally remarkable monuments are found.
“Creating tourist trails and maintaining existing structures has made Umm Qais more accessible to potential tourists, giving them the opportunity to experience Jordan’s rich heritage. At the same time, vulnerable Jordanians and Syrian refugees benefited from short-term employment while developing lifelong skills in the cultural sector. We are excited to continue this work in the remaining five heritage sites,” said UNESCO Representative in Jordan Min Jeong Kim.
Similar conservation works will be undertaken at five other heritage sites in Umm like Surab, Rihab and Al Fudayn (Mafraq) from mid-July, and at Pella and Beit Eidis (Irbid) from late August. The sites, belonging to the prehistoric, Roman, Byzantine or Islamic periods, are representative of Jordan’s rich and diverse history and contain cultural assets requiring different types of conservation interventions and tourist presentation.
Following the ILO’s employment-intensive approach, the Madad project will employ and train over 1,000 Jordanians and Syrians, including women, to undertake these maintenance and conservation works. A baseline assessment conducted in the communities of Mafraq and Irbid revealed that 12% of the surveyed sample felt that society was not favorable to women’s employment. The survey also showed that nearly 25% of respondents fear being harassed on the way to work, while 24% worry about harassment at work.
The ILO National Coordinator in Jordan, Ms. Frida Khan, said that “the project has succeeded in attracting women to unconventional jobs, such as masons and conservators for the preservation of heritage sites. This is mainly due to the decent working conditions we provide: fair wages paid equally to women and men, regulated working hours, safety on construction sites, zero tolerance for harassment and social security coverage. Decent work is the key to encouraging the participation of women not only in our projects, but throughout the labor market.
Prior to the start of works on the sites, UNESCO and ILO organized awareness campaigns in Irbid and Mafraq to engage communities in the upcoming project and the importance of women’s participation in heritage conservation . The level of participation from the local community, especially women, was encouraging