By Sarah Dahnke
M.A. International Development Studies
Concentration in Water Resource Management in the Middle East and North Africa
It was only 9 a.m., but the sun loomed overhead like a furnace. As we walked to the baptism site – the place where John the Baptist baptized Jesus – the Jordanian youth water trustees chatted with my colleagues and me in English. We talked about our studies and joked about the American election.
Having graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Global Studies with a minor in Middle Eastern Studies and now pursuing a master’s in International Development, I assumed that I knew a great deal about this broad concept called the Middle East. What this internship and my experiences in Jordan have taught me, is that I still have so much to learn. I had no idea how generous and inviting the Jordanian people were, and I underestimated the great sense of pride my coworkers would have in their king and the progress they made as a country. Most importantly, I have a newfound appreciation for my Jordanian colleagues as sources of vital knowledge to enhance my understanding of local and national issues.
My feet slipped on the stone steps leading to the Jordan River. I was here with my office – EcoPeace Middle East – to document a cross-border interaction between Jordanian and Israeli youth water trustees. Today’s activity was part of the Good Water Neighbors (GWN) Project, which works to unite cross-border communities in Israel, Palestine and Jordan around shared water problems. Through collaborating on sustainable water management, they build trust and arrive at common solutions that make way for peace and understanding, even during times of conflict.
Only 15 feet wide and an opaque green, the Jordan River serves as a natural barrier between Israel and Jordan, further emphasized by armed guards on each side. I looked across the river with my Jordanian colleagues at the tourists on the opposite bank, as they slipped into the dark water to be baptized. Next to the tourists stood a group of Israeli youth water trustees, from the EcoPeace Middle East office in Tel Aviv. One of their signs read water has no borders. Taking the cue from their counterparts across the river, the Jordanian youth trustees lined up at the water’s edge.
Altogether the students sang, “We will, we will change it.” The words echoed in the arid valley. Although the students could not physically join hands in solidarity, their voices rose up and became a force of their own. They would inspire the restoration of the Jordan River for generations to come. It was in this moment that I truly understood the importance of unity in environmental stewardship.
For updates on my work with EcoPeace Middle East, please visit my blog at involvetheworld.com.