You already know about our mission. Now it’s time to meet the men and women behind the curtain. This is the third post in a series of interviews of FoEME staff and affiliates. We hope you enjoy getting to know us better!
Always an environmental activist, Abdel Rahman Sultan tells us a little bit about what it is like to have started one of the most successful EcoParks in Jordan….
Abed, Could you tell me a little about yourself and your background?
I live in Madaba, and am currently married with four kids. I didn’t always live in Jordan, however. I was born in Cairo, Egypt. When I was young, I traveled around everywhere, living in Jordan, Morocco, Egypt and Algeria, to name a few places. In university, I studied agricultural engineering in Irbid, graduating in 1995. I then worked in Palestine for the “Palestine Institute for AridLand and Environmental Studies.” I wanted to learn more academically as well, so I went to Holland to study environmental engineering for my Masters. I graduated in 1999, and then came back to Jordan. When I saw an opening at Friends of the Earth Middle East, I had to apply.
And what was that position you applied for?
It was a position in Amman to conduct research on big corporations in Jordan and whether they would be likely to abide by environmental standards set by the government and international agencies. That was in 2000. I transitioned from that initial role to starting the SHE EcoPark in 2004. The SHEPark is my initiative, my baby.
So is the SHE EcoPark your main project here at FoEME?
Yes, I am the Director of the EcoPark. I have fallen in love with the park.
Tell me a little more about SHE.
Well, the initial idea was that we wanted to create an open space for people to connect with nature in the north of Jordan. We thought that we’d make an open garden, a little project, but the EcoPark quickly grew into a larger initiative. It is now a model in Jordan, and has three primary objectives: to educate people about the environment, to protect the local environment directly, and to rehabilitate and restore the area to its former healthy nature. I think that this EcoPark is important as it demonstrates to doubters that sustainable development can be implemented in the Middle East, and that people with different interests can use natural resources in a shared and sustainable fashion.
What is the biggest challenge you face in your work here at FoEME?
I have a number of challenges. One is inevitable: with strong climate change, the local area is facing long drought periods which cause the plants to wither and die. The second problem is a lack of financial resources; we want to create an environmental hub, but that is difficult to achieve without more funding. The third challenge is the current ideology in Jordan regarding public services. People don’t understand that shared resources cannot only be enjoyed, but require people to also invest in them. This is a problem.
What are your goals or hopes for the future?
I hope that we will be able to deliver the message to the people that protecting the environment is not a luxury – it’s a necessity. Adopting new behaviors, new practices that are sustainable will have a direct benefit on human beings: it will maximize happiness and wellbeing. At a certain point I wish we could close organizations like FoEME because there would be no need for them anymore. People would care for the environment themselves without our guidance. Sadly, that day has not yet come, but hopefully it will soon, insh’allah.
This post was written by FoEME Social Coordinator Luca Winer. Luca is currently in the Amman office. To find out more about the SHE EcoPark, please visit its website. (jordanecoparks.com)