The view along the highway to Madaba, Jordan, is mostly shades of brown — businesses and homes built in beige stone, rocky hillsides, the green of plants in the fields muted by a film of dust.
But there’s one building just up the hill that stands out. It’s three stories high and painted in bright yellow, green, pink and blue, the signature colors of the MCC-supported Green Schools project.
From the road below, the bright colors of Umama Bent Abi Ahhs Primary Mixed School are the change that’s easiest to see, but they’re only a symbol of the important water system upgrades at this and other schools in the project.
Broken water pipes are now replaced with new ones. Rusted and dirty water tanks are upgraded with clean ones. Broken and leaky faucets are replaced with new taps that easily turn on and off. Water runoff is now diverted into tanks. And, with that newly available water, bare, brown school yards are transformed into gardens with trees eagerly cared for by the students.
The goal of the Green Schools project is to improve access to clean water and improve the learning environment. All these changes have had a dramatic effect on the water available.
Maha Elyan Shteawi is the school counselor and runs the environmental club at Jalool Secondary Mixed School. Before the project started two years ago, she remembers they had to buy extra water every week or two at a cost of about $30. They also would receive donations of water from families of students with wells.
But now the school doesn’t have to purchase any extra. “There’s always water. Imagine the difference!” she says.
Jordan is one of the most water-poor countries in the world. According to the World Bank, it ranks in the bottom 10 for access to fresh, renewable water per capita.
The Green Schools project, implemented by MCC partner Madaba for Supporting Development (MSD), helps schools improve their access to clean water. And it encourages students, teachers and the broader community to do their part in conserving the limited resource.
The project first started when MSD founder Ali Al-Zynat was speaking at a public school about nonviolence. He went to use the washroom and was shocked to find the facilities in disrepair. “There were no faucets, there was not even water to wash your hands,” he says.
When he asked the principal what was going on, she said the pipes at the school were broken and so were the faucets. Like most public schools, they had water to fill their tanks delivered every couple of weeks by the government, but because of leaky pipes and taps, they lost so much water that it ran out well before the next delivery.
After that day, Al-Zynat went with a team to survey other public schools in the area to see how they compared.
Of the 20 schools they visited, only two of them had proper infrastructure.
"There were no faucets, there was not even water to wash your hands."
- Ali Al-Zynat
That’s when Al-Zynat got to work.
The Green Schools project supports primarily public schools, and while they would ideally be maintained by the Jordanian government, the ministry doesn’t have the money to keep the schools in good repair. “The government would come in, build the school, assign a team or staff and that’s about it, there’s not much money left,” says Al-Zynat.
The first and most important step of the project is to replace the pipes and water tanks where needed to stop leak - age and contamination.
After the initial repairs and updates, MSD comes to clean out and inspect the tanks every six months to make sure water quality stays high. Poorly maintained water tanks have been known to make students ill.
To help conserve the water that’s delivered, sink faucets are replaced so that they aren’t dripping and wasting water. A water tank is installed in each school to collect gray water, wastewater from activities like hand-washing, that can be used to water trees in new school gardens.
The project also includes setting up an environmental club at each school. Students in the club help maintain the garden, make sure the water infrastructure is still working and teach others at the school about the importance of conserving water and protecting the environment. Club members pass on what they’ve learned through morning announcements, skits or just reminders to friends and classmates.
Yasmine Thaher, 11, part of the environmental club at Bassa Primary School, says she’s noticed a difference in how her schoolmates behave. Before the project, she says, “Nobody really cared. They would leave the faucets on and they would play with the water, fill up water balloons and stuff. They would waste it,” she says. But after the upgrades, “Everyone started working together and taking care of the environment.”
The last part of the Green Schools project is to paint the outside of the school in the project’s signature yellow, green, pink and blue. While the change in paint colors is cosmetic, it brings a new energy and gets students and their families excited about caring for their school and the environment.
Shteawi, the counselor at Jalool school, has seen this firsthand. Where before parents were taking their children away from Jalool to different schools, families now are coming in on evenings or holidays to take care of the new garden. When students returned from summer vacation and saw the improvements, she overheard them excitedly telling their parents, “Look at my beautiful school!”
The garden that’s part of the project has also made a difference in students’ behavior, she says.
Having a quiet green space and a positive physical activity to work on is a tool she can use to help students in difficult times. “Some [students] might exhibit some aggressive verbal or physical behaviors, we make them use their energy for something productive. They cultivate the land, they irrigate, they weed. … So this is energy released and they feel a sense of teamwork,” she says.
She’s also proud to hear how students in the environmental club have been sharing what they’ve learned with their families and friends. By doing so, they are helping to address a major challenge for the country overall.
Students like Wasn Almsafah at Bassa Primary School have taken that message to heart and are eager to share with others the importance of conserving a resource that is scarce in Jordan. “Many people don’t have quality water access,” the 11-year-old says. “This water could be in need somewhere else so it’s wrong to waste it.”