Posted by: EcoPeace Middle East | October 15, 2012

An Insight to FoEME’s Assistant Director of Projects, Yana

Yana speaks at the SIWI (Stockholm International Water Institute) conference on the Lower Jordan River Master Plan

Yana, tell me something about yourself; where did you grow up, what did you study?

I grew up in the States and finished elementary school there, but I completed my high school in Jordan. After finishing this I went to the University of Jordan where I completed my degree in Archeology. I moved to the States again, but once I got there I realized I can’t be anywhere but in Jordan so I moved back. My first job when I got back was at a travel agency, but I feel my professional career only started when I joined FoEME.

When was that? How did you become acquainted with FoEME?

I found out about FoEME from a friend, who knew the director Munqeth. He told me about the organization working for the environment, and they needed somebody to put together a newsletter, I believe it was monthly, and also to write articles and edit the newsletter. That was my main job when I joined in 2000, until I left in 2003.

So you left FoEME and returned later. What did you do in the meantime, and what drew you back to the organization?

I moved to Saudi Arabia after I got married. When I first got there I just thought to myself “What did I do to myself?”, but when I started working I felt better. I worked for the British Council there as an education project manager. I gained a lot of experience but still the differences in culture were too much to handle and I had to return to Jordan. One month after I returned to the country I re-joined FoEME. That was in February of 2010.

Did you roll back in smoothly and go back to the job you did before?

I did a different job, I was the Amman office coordinator of the Transboundary Advocacy of Parliamentarians (TAP) project. Advocating over shared water issues. It was really advocacy between and for all projects, lobbying to the government mainly over the Jordan River. That’s what led up to the stage that I am in now, being assistant director of projects.

Since you’ve done so many different things for FoEME, do you have a favorite project?

No I have no favorite project, I love all projects. Also, all our projects are connected to each other. I don’t favor any project over another, all are very necessary and very interlinked.

In all these projects, are there challenges that you keep facing? Something that keeps coming back?

In the organization? Yes, people do not understand we have an Israeli chapter, which is always a problem. We are sometimes accused of being collaborators or normalizers. People don’t want to cooperate when they find out that we have an Israeli chapter, that’s the main challenge that we face.

How do you deal with such an intense challenge? Do you try to convince the critics of the virtue of your projects or do you leave them alone?

It depends on who the person you’re dealing with is. If it’s a group, who is that group? If it’s an individual, who is that individual? You deal with it in different ways. Groups, for example people living in the Jordan Valley, we have to show them which benefits we bring to the community. With time, they are actually convinced. They see it’s not a matter of just wanting to normalize, it’s a matter of doing things to understand what we really do, protecting our shared environment. We have to show the benefits and the shared responsibility we have. For example the Jordan River Project, we have to show them that whether we pollute, or the Israeli’s pollute, it doesn’t matter because it will still be polluted; pollution knows no borders. It’s the same in the case of water diversion, it is going to affect both countries. If we don’t cooperate, nobody will ever benefit, so we try to highlight that we have to cooperate in order to benefit.

So after explaining, people do understand?

Well, some people are stubborn and just don’t want to understand. However, the majority of people who see our achievements and how it benefits our country and the environment, they join our efforts and work with us.

That’s good to hear. In all your time with FoEME, what was your most memorable moment?

There are so many memorable moments! And so many inspiring moments as well. I believe that everything happens for a reason. But I can think of one incident, when Emily, the Jordan River Project Manager, and I were invited by the Swedish embassy to address participants in a Swedish Institute workshop. We stood in front of a group of alumni from Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon and Syria to present our work. We were invited because we deal with environmental issues in a conflict area. I was standing there for two hours, and attacked the whole two hours. It was like people wanted to kill me, but it was very inspiring for me. You probably want to ask, ‘Yana, how is such an instance when people want to kill you inspiring, don’t you just want to get back at them?’ But I felt their frustration. They see things from one angle only, which is ignorant and I felt sorry for how ignorant they can be. I know they were frustrated, so I let them get their frustrations out. I was hardly allowed to speak for those two hours that I was standing there, but the few things that we did say made people realize that we are working for the Jordanians and the Palestinians, for the benefits of our countries. We got support for our criticism of the Water Ministry for not managing the water sector properly.

That’s amazing, reaching people in such a way. So do you have any goals and hopes for the future?

I have many hopes, and I do think they are all achievable. Many people say that we at the organization are dreamers, but I think it’s nice to have a dream and work towards it. My personal dream for the organization is to rehabilitate the Jordan River and to reintegrate peace through working on environmental issues.

One last question, did you ever regret not doing anything with your archeology degree?

I don’t regret not doing anything with archeology now that I’m doing what I’m doing. I’m happy. Also, I see archeology as part of the environment. Everything is part of the environment, it’s all connected.

This blog was written by FoEME intern Lidwien Wijchers, who is based in the Amman office.

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