Great outdoors: Exploring youth-designed hiking trails in Jordan

several people standing on a hiking trail
A participant describes one of the “Leave No Trace” rules to community members walking on the trails in Prince Hashem Park in Bireen.
January 17, 2024

In Prince Hashem Park in Bireen, a group of young people gathered at the site of two new hiking trails in Zarqa Governorate. They connected with each other and reviewed the seven “Leave No Trace” principles for the outdoors, posted along the trails:

  • Plan ahead and prepare.
  • Travel and camp on durable surfaces.
  • Dispose of waste properly.
  • Leave what you find.
  • Minimize campfire impacts (be careful with fire).
  • Respect wildlife.
  • Be considerate of other visitors.

The principles are a set of guidelines that promote ecological conservation and help people explore their environments responsibly. The practices leave a minimum impact through simple and thoughtful actions. 

The new hiking trails were designed by youth participating in The Nature Club, an initiative of the Mercy Corps team in Jordan, which supports emotional, psychological, and physical needs for young people between the ages of 16 to 30. Club participants learn to mitigate the impact of prolonged toxic stress on their minds, improve their ability to assess risk, and make positive choices. 

“Initiatives like these provide a semblance of control in lives where many aspects are beyond their influence. It empowers them to take charge, fostering a sense of agency and resilience,” says Dalia Ajweh, Mercy Corps Psychosocial Support Specialist in Jordan.

The Nature Club helps young people in a period of their lives where they are faced with making key decisions that can impact the trajectory of their futures. According to the UN, Jordan hosts over 730,000 refugees from nearby countries, predominantly Syria. The region has been forever changed by prolonged conflict and devastating natural disasters. One in 14 of Jordan’s population are refugees, and 39% of Jordanian youth are unemployed. 

Connecting young people to lead the development of the new hiking trails is just one way Mercy Corps has helped Jordanian youth grow into engaged leaders. In Zarqa, The Nature Club partners with a local community-based organization, the We Participate Center, which holds a vision to build a vibrant Jordanian democracy. 

In addition to hiking, The Nature Club also teaches sports and outdoor activities such as rock climbing. As young people find ways to stay engaged in their communities and manage stress in uncertain times, programs like these encourage care for the environment and awareness of their surroundings. Through our team in Jordan, the Nature Club’s programming impacts more than 1,000 participants across the region, and roughly 360 young people in Zarqa. This engagement equips people to handle the challenges of daily life in an increasingly changing world.

Women dancing in an outdoor tent
A group of participants celebrate at the opening ceremony in Zarqa.
A woman standing near a hiking trail stretching arms in front of her
A participant leads an icebreaking activity for the attendees before the walk on the trails in Prince Hashem Park in Bireen.

The young members of The Nature Club “independently chose the lack of available hiking trails in Zarqa as a concern,” says Mahmoud Al-Sbeihat, director of the We Participate Center. “The youth did a community mapping exercise, engaging with stakeholders to better comprehend the issue. They discovered that Prince Hashem Park, a popular spot for families, lacked hiking trails, impacting many Zarqa residents.” 

The Nature Club guides young people to explore their region, develop new skills, and learn more about the environmental impacts of their neighborhoods.

“This experience was more than just introducing a new environmental trail; it was an educational and impactful journey, providing the youth with an opportunity to positively contribute to their surroundings and refine their skills for future endeavors,” says Mahmoud.

The trails create “a space where they engage in recreational activities, connect with nature, and find moments of mindfulness, often elusive in the bustling city of Zarqa. It becomes a retreat, nurturing their well-being in a unique and essential way,” says Dalia.

The Nature Club’s ability to leverage the opinions of the youth in their own programming means that they have a direct impact on what their lives and their communities look like in the future. Young people in the region are developing resilience so they can meet these challenges while creating opportunities for themselves to build better lives.

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