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Jordan Asks: Can Travel Change Lives?

Woven by Hand

One of those businesses was the next stop on our itinerary. The Bani Hamida Women’s Weaving Project empowers Jordanian villagers and Syrian refugees by training them to weave rugs and other goods by hand using heritage techniques. The women work in their own homes and earn enough money to provide for their families and secure financial independence for themselves, which has enabled them to pursue leadership roles in their communities and in municipal government.

Local women greeted us at the organization’s headquarters and showroom, where they demonstrated the weaving techniques on handmade looms. Participants then sat down for hands-on interaction with the weavers, making their own woven coasters and keychains on small-scale looms. Everyone agreed that the work was much harder than it looked.

Our hosts also told us proudly about their most recent accomplishment: After touring the co-op, executives from Ikea had committed to selling Bani Hamida rugs in their stores worldwide. This partnership has already generated 53 new jobs for Jordanian women, and by the time production reaches full steam, the Ikea product line will employ 400 women full time, with benefits. The rugs will be available in Ikea stores in the United States this summer.

Lasting Impact

The Tourism Cares adventure in Jordan continued to many more places, with groups visiting an ecolodge, an environmental association, cafes and other sites highlighted on the Meaningful Travel Map. The final day brought us to Petra, the ancient city carved into rose-red cliffs of the Jordanian desert. And though travelers were in awe of this massive historic site, the buzz among delegates still centered around the social enterprises we had visited and the impacts they were having on their communities. Before the trip was over, leaders of several large tour operators committed to including stops at these sites on their trips in the coming years, which will infuse a new stream of North American visitors into these communities.

Now that the Meaningful Travel Map of Jordan has launched, Muna intends to continue developing impactive tourism communities through Baraka, which now has projects in multiple countries throughout the region. And she has won the admiration of the tourism community, both in Jordan and beyond.

“Muna Haddad is young, hyperdynamic, passionate and inspired,” Mike Rea told me at the end of the Tourism Cares journey. “She’s going to be one of the most impactful pieces. She’s a highly competent leader in a developing country.”

Perhaps the most meaningful praise, though, came from Lina Annab, the minister of tourism and antiquities who has been something of a personal hero to Muna, at a closing dinner with the entire Tourism Cares delegation at a Bedouin camp near Petra.

“What can I say, Muna?” she said. “You continue to give us reasons to love you, admire you and look up to you.”

The minister, along with Muna and Malia Asfour, director of the Jordan Tourism Board North America and an instrumental force in bringing the Tourism Cares delegation to Jordan, is among a cohort of empowered women who are casting a new vision of Jordan’s future. In their version, the country’s fortunes aren’t subject to geopolitics or newspaper headlines. Instead, they are in charge of their own destiny.

“Jordan’s identity has been hijacked by the media, but we have decided that we’re not going to be defensive anymore,” Lina said. “We’re going to tell our story. We have a beautiful story to tell, and it’s our time and our moment to tell it.”

With change-makers like Muna Haddad leading the charge, Jordan’s story is in very good hands.

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.