By Janine Al-Aseer, CSPS Research Assistant & PhD Student
As we come to the end of Women’s History Month, I reflect on the amazing women I’ve had the privilege to work with over this month. There is Paula Korsakas, the coordinator for the Human Development Program for Sport in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Dr. Alicia Malnati (“Dr. Hatch”), the design guru and writer extraordinaire of the Center, Dr. Carolyn Spellings (“Dr. C”), the backbone of programmatic monitoring and evaluation for the Center, and Shannon McCall (“Sha-nay-nay”), the Center’s project manager and organizer supreme. That’s not to mention the superstars that create the foundation of everything we do, our co-directors, Dr. Sarah Hillyer (“Dr. SJ”) and Dr. Ashleigh Huffman (“Dr. Ash”).
On top of all of these incredible women, in March I was given the distinct pleasure of meeting Dima Alardah and Batoul Arnaout, two emerging leaders from the Global Sports Mentoring Program on their home turf in Amman, Jordan.
But, first I had to get there!
On the way to Jordan, I was detained for six hours at an Israeli checkpoint. In a sectioned-off area, my Palestinian family and I watched through the low bars as countless Israeli citizens passed by us. The detainment section filled with other Palestinian families, the children playing with toys (the parents had anticipated the wait) and getting out bags of food to share.
After being released and crossing the King Hussein Bridge over the now completely dry Jordan River, I finally arrived to meet Dima and Batoul. The women greeted my family and I warmly and shared in our frustration over travel issues during the ongoing political conflict.
I couldn’t believe that here in front of me were two Palestinian-Jordanian women of whom I had seen pictures, heard incredible stories, and listened to for hours in audio interviews. I admired them from afar for their great sacrifices and commitment to women. Strong and confident, they welcomed me into their lives and shared about their current work.
See more of Dima and Batoul in this video from the Center’s trip to Egypt and Jordan in December
Together, Dima and Batoul strengthen the team at the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), empowering young Syrian refugees with skills that will give them purpose and a way to make a living while in the camps. Batoul, the NRC’s communications coordinator, now works in the same office as Dima, a youth program officer for the Zaatari and Emirati Jordanian camps. Their friendly banter and ability to finish one another’s sentences is evidence of their deep friendship.
During our time together, they regaled me with stories about their daily routines. On top of her regular job at the NRC, Batoul founded the nonprofit organization BOOST, which runs sports projects around Jordan aimed at increasing access to sport for the country’s underserved athletes. Dima makes similar sacrifices of her evenings and weekends with SHUTTLERS, the first badminton academy in the Arab world. In spite of their incredibly busy schedules, these women make time for their families, friends, and even an evening to spend with me at the Wild Jordan Center.
After a two-hour meal, Batoul was forced to depart and we reluctantly said goodbye. With traditional Arab hospitality, Dima offered to take my travel partner and I around downtown Jordan. We walked Rainbow Street, perusing shops and people watching. Some young men stopped to take pictures with her. From their laughter, she was obviously just as funny and charming in Arabic as she is in English. At the end of the evening she wouldn’t hear of us taking a cab home and went out of her way to drive us across town to our family.
I am humbled to have spent an evening with such icons in Jordan. These women are famous in their sports—Dima in badminton and Batoul in cycling—and for the way they’ve used their achievements to show that Arab women are strong, confident, and capable. Despite their status, they have dedicated their lives to something larger than themselves by empowering women and youth to create the kind of transformation that will spread like wildfire through Jordan. As Women’s History Month comes to a close, I can’t help but think about these remarkable women, the historical impact they are making in their country, and the honor of spending a day in their world.