TAFA: The Textile and Fiber Art List

Friday, August 29, 2008

Queen Rania and the Jordan River Foundation

Several years ago I had the privilege of attending a USAID conference in Chicago that focused on handicrafts, women and economic development initiatives around the world. A large room showcased different projects with samples of their work and representatives of the groups. Smaller rooms were used for topical seminars. The experience was fascinating and energizing: to see women from so many different places, many dressed in traditional outfits, bringing color and texture into the gathering, all of them engaged in so many wonderful enterprises. The highlight of the conference was an address by keynote speaker, Queen Rania of Jordan.

Yes, she is a queen. A beautiful one. The woman is drop-dead gorgeous! She could easily use her beauty as an unapproachable guise to keep her away from the masses, leading the life of an earthly goddess. Instead, she is down here with the rest of us, more often than not, in simple garbs, one of the people.

When Queen Rania begins to speak, the issue of her beauty fades into the background. The woman is also brilliant. She earned a degree in Business Administration at the University of Cairo and has put that education to use in her role as Queen. She sees her job as a partnership with her husband, King Abdullah II, to lead Jordan into prosperity, modernity, and justice. This interview on ABC News is a good example of the way she engages the people around her to achieve her goals:

ABC News Interview with Queen Rania

Queen Rania sees her role as Queen as a job. She speaks openly about how difficult she finds it to balance her home life with four children, with her "job" and her duties as Queen. Her children are her priority. She reads to them at night, plays with them, and instills in them those values that drive the rest of her life.

Queen Rania with King Abdullah II and their children.

Queen Rania attended the conference in Chicago to speak about her project that she had started to address some of the fundamental needs the people of Jordan have concerning advocacy for children and women's rights along with economic development in rural areas. She established the Jordan River Foundation in 1995 as a non-profit, non-governmental organization that addresses those needs in concrete ways.

The Foundation's profile:

Our Mission
The Jordan River Foundation's mission is to promote, in partnership with stakeholders, the development of a dynamic Jordanian society by initiating and supporting sustainable social, economic and cultural programs that empower communities and individuals based on their needs and priorities.

Our Dedication
At the outset, the Foundation initiated socio-economic projects for women to provide employment opportunities that enhanced their livelihood while developing their knowledge and skills in handicraft production and entrepreneurship. These projects benefited thousands of individuals, directly and indirectly, and continue to generate income for vulnerable communities and families.

As the Foundation matured, and the context of development evolved in Jordan, the Foundation expanded its approach to one of sustainable community investments, integrating and serving community development needs.
Today, the Foundation is recognized nationally, regionally and internationally as an agent for positive change and as a leading Jordanian institution contributing to the social and economic well-being of citizens. Our activities have become models for emulation receiving accolades by our beneficiaries who are often held up as "success stories".

A large part of their programming is dedicated to serving the needs of underprivileged children and women. They have invested in schools, art programs, legal advice for women and many other programs. This video gives an overview of the foundation:

Queen Rania's Tribute to the Jordan River Foundation

The Jordan River Foundation also has two handicraft initiatives, the Radi Al Rayan Project, which works with women who make mats, furniture and other decorative objects out of banana leaves and cattail reeds, and the Bani Hamida Women's Weaving Project which works with Bedouin women. The samples shown at the conference were stunningly well crafted and easily incorporated into contemporary design. Some samples from their catalog:

The Foundation's approach makes the connection between the production of traditional handicrafts like weaving with local farming and agricultural needs. Although women primarily benefit from the handicrafts initiatives, men also are included through all the work the Foundation does to better their crop yields and market expansion.

These two photos are from a visit Joy May Hilden
made to the Bani Hamida's Weaving Project.
She has a fascinating
website on the Beduin.

Queen Rania had "real" jobs before she married the King. She worked for both Apple and Citibank and brought these experiences with her to the throne. She is media savvy and has a series of videos on YouTube where she addresses questions on Islam, the Middle East, relations with Israel, the rights of women and so on. She meets these tough questions with grace, humor, gentleness, and a true desire to connect and educate. In watching how she interacts with Arab men, it is obvious that she has acquired a position of equality and respect. Her beauty, her choice to remain unveiled, and her gender seem unimportant in view of all that she has contributed to Jordan's development.

There is a lesson here for all of us. Queen Rania lives the dictate, "To whom much is given, much is required." But, she does it with joy, enthusiasm and great hope. One person can make a difference and she believes in the domino effect that if you give to someone who is in your neighborhood, then that giving will catch on and spread. May her life continue to be a source of inspiration for you and for me! Thank you, Queen Rania!


1 comment:

  1. Great post! Queen Rania is a very interesting woman - she and her family were refugees from Kuwait, I believe, but Abdullah fell for her the first time they met. Little wonder! I enjoyed reading the book her step mother-in-law Queen Noor wrote in 2003 "Leap of Faith: Memoirs of an Unexpected Life". She too initiated many programs to help Jordanian women create their traditional crafts and make a living from it, so they could educate themselves and their children. Truly inspirational women!!


“Sing like no one's listening, love like you've never been hurt, dance like nobody's watching, and live like it's heaven on earth.”

“Whatever you say, say it with conviction.”

(Both by the master, Mark Twain)

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