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Seeding alternative forms of energy in Jordan

Harnessing and managing the sun’s power through solar energy is a good bet in Jordan, which boasts some 319 days of sunshine a year. That’s about the same number of days as in Regina, Saskatchewan, one of Canada’s sunniest places.

But a project intended to improve the awareness and adoption of renewable energy and energy efficiency in homes and schools in 2 of Jordan’s poorest districts is doing much more than that. It is changing gender and social norms and providing employment and income opportunities, as well as boosting skills and knowledge among women there.

In Jordan, solar panels are being installed on rooftops to improve energy efficiency. Photo: Cowater International Jordan – SEED.

“We are decreasing the resistance to change in local communities,” says Mohammad Ramadan, who leads the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (SEED) project. He is country director in Jordan for Cowater International, a global development consulting company headquartered in Canada, where schools are also implementing clean-energy projects and offering training in solar technologies.

The SEED project, implemented by Cowater and co-financed by Global Affairs Canada and the Jordan Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Fund, is intended to promote sustainable and inclusive growth. It focuses on the Ajloun Governorate in the country’s north and the Deir Alla district in the western Jordan Valley.

SEED has helped households there install solar water heaters and panels, as well as supporting schools and health centres adopting renewable energy systems and improve their energy efficiency. It has supported the construction of 2 small solar farms, offered training and internships to engineers and provided certification courses to professionals in specialized fields such as smart metering, energy management and energy auditing.

A critical impact on women

The SEED project has provided women like Ruba Gharagheer with opportunities to combat gender norms and contribute to the development of their communities. Photo: Cowater International Jordan - SEED.

A critical impact of the project has been on gender norms. For example, Ruba Gharagheer received technical training from SEED that included designing, installing, connecting, operating and maintaining solar-power systems. She secured a job with one of SEED’s contractors, as well as participating in many of the project’s awareness-raising campaigns. She feels this benefited her on many levels, especially by giving her self-confidence and social skills.

In the past, Gharagheer was fearful of heights and dealing with electricity. “Following my training with SEED, I was able to overcome these fears, which I felt a prisoner of,” she says. Meanwhile, she is proud to have been able to work in what was traditionally considered a male job.

“I showed that women can be as involved as men—or even more—in technical fields like this,” Gharagheer says. She has now become a youth educator and “change ambassador” for various organizations and continues to embrace the importance of applying energy efficiency and renewable energy in her community.

The SEED project has allowed women to work as “energy ambassadors” and educate others on the importance of energy efficiency. Photo: Cowater International Jordan - SEED.

Ramadan says one important element of the project has been raising the understanding among disadvantaged groups of the economic and environmental benefits of renewable energy. Women working as “energy ambassadors” teach people to optimize the consumption of energy in their homes.

Students in schools get first-hand experience in energy labs and play games in which they learn about solar power. As a result, many encourage their parents to install solar water-heaters at home, he says. “They become our seeds, our new trees in the project areas.”

Girls and women are most likely to benefit from the money that families save by adopting solar-power systems, Ramadan notes. “Parents are sending their children back to school—especially female students.”

Learning the lessons of the technology

Solar panels reduce CO2 emissions and save energy. Photo: Cowater International Jordan - SEED.

Schools assisted by the program are feeling its impact. For example, the Orjan Secondary School for Girls in Ajloun installed solar panels that cover most of the power needs of the school’s 400 students and staff, reducing its carbon dioxide emissions and electricity bills.

The improvements include energy-saving air conditioners, hot-water heaters and LED lights, while windows and doors have been maintained to prevent heat loss. There is a renewable energy lab and educational kits to ensure students learn the lessons of the technology, says headmistress Fatima Iffesha.

“Not only is the school decreasing its environmental impact, but also the learning environment has improved for the students during the hot summer and cold winter months,” she remarks. Students are pleased not to smell the kerosene and exhaust gas from heaters that were once used, Iffesha notes. “They are now healthier and like the school better.”

With her SEED training, Feryal Al-Masry created a solar-energy-absorbing umbrella, which offers shade while collecting energy. Photo: Cowater International Jordan - SEED.

At Al Maadi Comprehensive Secondary School for Girls in Deir Alla, renewable-energy and energy-efficiency improvements have raised awareness among the 486 students and teachers of the benefits of such technologies. Al Maadi acts as a role model for Jordan’s Directorate of Education and other schools in the area.

Principal Ibtihaj Al-Afeef says the installation of new air conditioning units has improved class attendance in the summer months. “This is expected to result in better livelihood opportunities for the Deir Alla community in the longer term,” she says.

Here in Canada, organizations such as Solar Schools Canada support clean-energy projects and offer related educational programming at schools. There are also training programs for solar photovoltaic installers and other work going on at post-secondary institutions across the country, such as Nova Scotia Community College.

Improving lives and livelihoods

The SEED program has had a direct impact on livelihoods in the districts where it has been implemented. For example, Feryal Al-Masry of Deir Alla received theoretical and practical technical training, attending a 3-month boot camp where participants transfer innovative ideas into business plans.

Feryal Al-Masry has earned an award from SEED for her success in designing and manufacturing the solar-energy-absorbing umbrella. Photo: Cowater International Jordan – SEED.

A mother of 5 and the sole provider for her family, Al-Masry combined the training with her background in handicrafts to develop a solar umbrella. This product can be used by store owners as an awning over sidewalk displays and by entrepreneurs with street carts to avoid the sun’s rays while at the same time it collects valuable renewable energy.

Al-Masry has opened a shop to design and manufacture the devices. She’s also passing on the technical, financial and business-management training she got through SEED to her family and neighborhood. On a personal level, Al-Masry gained self-confidence and boosted her communication and social skills by working in a team.

“This helps me build relationships in the markets with vendors, partners and potential customers,” she says. Much like Ruba Gharagheer, she’s gratified to take on a role normally reserved for men. “I showed our community that women can start vocational businesses and generate income to support their families.”

Wide-ranging advantages

Ramadan says that while the COVID-19 pandemic presented challenges for some SEED activities, such as holding in-person awareness sessions, it also brought advantages. For example, interest in its online training and awareness sessions for engineers and technicians blossomed across the region, he reports. “In one of these sessions, we got 3,000 participants from 15 countries,” he says—which, for reference, is about the total student enrollment of Bishop’s University in Quebec.

The project has benefited from “know-how exchanges” with Canada, he says, which go both ways and cover technology, training materials and practices. Ramadan has no doubt the project’s goals will be sustained by the people of Ajloun and Deir Alla long into the future.

“They now have the tools and the training and the manuals and the practices they need to continue what we started,” he says.

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