Cultural Heritage Sites Build Livelihoods in Jordan

Bir Mathkour, Jordan, cultural tourism, cultural heritage
Mohammad Khalid Al-Sa’idiyyin is one of 10 site stewards who work throughout Jordan to preserve and promote archaeological sites within their own communities.
Mai Alrefai, USAID
By preserving the past, the future looks brighter for tourism industry
“Our society needs more awareness on how important domestic tourism is. We know that, once we work more, the site will give us more.”

March 2016—Mohammad Khalid Al-Sa’idiyyin, an experienced Jordanian trail guide who has worked informally in the tourism sector for years, is one of two site stewards at Bi’r Mathkour working to educate others about the community’s local relics.

Bi'r Mathkour is one of 40 sites in southern Jordan with a connection to the ancient Incense Route, a major land and sea trading route that stretched from India across the Levant and Egypt, linking eastern and southern incense, spices and luxury goods with the Mediterranean world. The route existed between the 7th century B.C. and 2nd century A.D.

USAID is working to conserve the area and ultimately construct trails between the sites and Petra through its Sustainable Cultural Heritage through Engagement of Local Communities Project (SCHEP). Al-Sa’idiyyin is one example of how the project is building livelihoods, strengthening the economy and protecting archaeological sites in Jordan.

As an only child, Al-Sa’idiyyin was forced to drop out of school in ninth grade to care for his elderly mother. He fluctuated between tour guide jobs in Petra, Wadi Rum and Aqaba but found it difficult to travel back and forth between jobs and his village as his mother’s health declined.

USAID’s site steward program finally gave Al-Sa’idiyyin the chance to work within his local community.

“I was interested in promoting this area because of its value,” he said. “We not only have artifacts, but also sand dunes and natural wonders that we can do something with. We are working on a reception site on the highway and trying to provide all the services to tourists here in one place. Now that USAID is here, I feel like there is progress.”

To further build his skill set, Al-Sa’idiyyin is participating in a guide certification course with the International Mountaineering and Climbing Association and the Jordan Tourism Board. The association will select participants from the course to work at a planned academy for mountaineering in the Middle East—the first of its kind in the Arabic-speaking world.

“One of the best things I learned from the training was how to deal with different customers,” Al-Sa’idiyyin said. “For example, if you’re guiding a professional hiker, you can’t start giving orders. We learned how to address different types of people in different ways to make each group happy.”

After completing the course, Al-Sa’idiyyin will have international accreditation as a tour guide. “This training brings me joy because I know that, with my new skills, I can help my area and serve my city.”

Ten site stewards are currently working throughout Jordan to help their communities protect national monuments and attract tourists, with many more to come. Al-Sa’idiyyin stresses the importance of working hard to give back to one’s community.

“Our society needs more awareness on how important domestic tourism is,” he says. “All of the youth here are dreaming about having a better situation than the one we have now. We know that, once we work more, the site will give us more.”

The Sustainable Cultural Heritage through Engagement of Local Communities Project, which runs from November 2014 through November 2018, works in eight areas in Jordan to preserve and promote cultural heritage sites while attracting tourists and increasing employment.


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