Why did you decide to volunteer with United Planet in Jordan?
Haleh: I choose to volunteer with United Planet in Jordan because I had spent time in a different Middle Eastern country prior to Jordan and it was an incredible experience. Unfortunately, the media portrays the Middle East in such a negative light and because of this, I ended up being very surprised with how comfortable I felt and how welcoming the local people were to me. I wanted to visit another Middle Eastern country to see if other places in the Middle East were as friendly and welcoming to Americans, so I googled volunteering in Middle East and was directed to United Planet in Jordan. I choose volunteering rather than just taking a vacation because I wanted to have an experience with locals. I didn't look at other sites because UP had a teaching quest and I knew I wanted to do volunteer work involving children, and I liked that the assignments included living with a host family. Also, with United Planet, an excursion was included in each program.
Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer.
Haleh: A typical day during volunteering included waking up in the host house (which is across the street from the service site) and having a traditional Jordanian breakfast. Then, volunteers would then head across the street to House of Tales and Music. As children arrived, volunteers colored with children or read to them. Throughout the day, I led craft projects that I brought from the US with me, read stories to students, played games, and helped local teachers who came into the school throughout the day (there was a full time teacher, an art teacher who came various days, and different music teachers daily throughout my volunteer time). The children stayed till mid afternoon. I did some clean up after the children left and then returned to host family house for lunch and evening free time. The children ranged in age from 4 to middle school. During my volunteer time, the children were a mix of local children as well as children who lived in different countries and were visiting family for the summer. Many children were from Europe and some were Syrain refugees. All the children were multi-lingual.
What made this experience unique and special?
Haleh: The volunteer experience was unique because I was told in my UP interview that I would be planning, preparing, and teaching lessons as a volunteer. So I planned craft projects and took all the supplies from the US with me. The children treated me so well as I taught the new crafts and read stories. It was very special to see the Jordanian people welcome me as a teacher and give me so much respect. The children were always willing and exciting to try new projects and the local teachers took time to learn the projects as well for future use.
How has this experience impacted your future?
Haleh: The experience has impacted me by deepening my love for the Middle East and served as a reminder that people all over the world are more alike than different despite so the negative media. I have made so many great friends and so many great memories that will last me a life time. Also, this was the first time that I traveled complete solo. Although I was nervous at first, I did not stop myself from completing a journey that I wanted to take.