7Hills for Social Development Wins Sixth International Refugee Advocacy and Support Award

  • Mariam Al Hammadi: “Social change begins with the elevation of youth culture.

Sharjah: 7Hills for Social Development, a non-profit organization based in Jordan, has been awarded the Sharjah International Refugee Advocacy and Support Award (SIARA) 2022, organized annually by The Big Heart Foundation (TBHF), a UAE-based global humanitarian organization dedicated to helping refugees and people in need around the world.

The sixth edition of the award, worth AED500,000, was awarded to 7Hills for Social Development in recognition of its outstanding role in initiating creative empowerment programs aimed at the integration of young refugees into the community of welcome to Jordan. With its innovative strategy of transforming unused public spaces into safe creative places to help build positive new communities, 7 Hills enhances creative and recreational development and creates a new, integrated future for Jordanian refugees and in host communities.

Through its practices and the range of activities it offers, 7 Hills offers a window for young people to develop and perfect their creative abilities. Such practices pave the way for self-discovery and allow young refugees to develop their capacities within a supportive and inclusive community in a safe public space. In 2020-21, the number of beneficiaries amounted to more than 2,000 young men and women, of whom 45% were women and 60% refugees and internally displaced persons.

By developing a space dedicated to skateboarding, the organization provides a creative and inspiring outlet for children and young people to learn new skills and build their confidence. The combination of skateboarding with creative and informal education initiatives improves the psychological and emotional health of refugees in these regions and builds the resilience of all age groups of children, youth and parents.

Designing for refugee integration

7Hills was created by a group of young people led by skateboarder and photographer Mohammed Zakaria, who successfully built the 7Hills skatepark in Amman in 2014 together with a group of local and international volunteers. The team managed to transform an abandoned area into a fully equipped 650 m² skatepark in less than three weeks.

The SIARA 2022 winner focuses on making the best use of public creative spaces to engage young refugees in a range of social activities. The revamped urban space now allows refugees to connect with places, create positive memories, strengthen communication and strengthen their integration with the host community. Young refugees also develop leadership skills and use what they have learned to train others and strengthen their physical and psychological health.

The community-based approach adopted by the Amman-based entity and Al Raseef 153, the social enterprise arm of 7Hills, includes an inclusive program that focuses on several pillars and encompasses youth leadership training and courses for young refugees in Jordan. Each year, more than 250 young people – 50% of whom are refugees – learn to develop leadership and professional skills at the creative youth centre.

Dialogue and partnership

The organization’s activities support socio-economic and cultural cohesion through awareness classes and informal edutainment programs. It offers free skateboarding equipment, as well as artistic and manual activities, in addition to educational tools to enrich the beneficiaries.

Through its practices and the range of activities it offers, 7 Hills offers a window for young people to develop and perfect their creative abilities. Such practices pave the way for self-discovery and allow young refugees to develop their capacities within a supportive and inclusive community in a safe public space. In 2020-21, the number of beneficiaries amounted to more than 2,000 young men and women, of whom 45% were women and 60% refugees and internally displaced persons.

As part of its inclusive vision that stems from a deep understanding of the needs of victims of wars and crises, 7Hills for Social Development has successfully created a diverse community of host communities, migrants and refugees, including Syrians, Palestinians, Lebanese, Sudanese, Somalians, Yemenis, Young Egyptians, Nigerians, Filipinos and Iraqis who have close ties with the Jordanian community.

Creating opportunities for young people through leadership programs

7Hills implements leadership programs to enable young people to become active members of the community and encourages them to work with the organization’s team and contribute to the development and management of its programs. Additionally, graduates of the program have the opportunity to run the free weekly skateboarding lessons dedicated to refugees to build social cohesion with host communities.

7Hills also has a range of programs and initiatives that serve young people who live in remote areas on the outskirts of Amman. It prioritizes the needs of young people in refugee camps in Jordan and young people with disabilities and aims to build a new park suitable for children and people with disabilities.

Strengthen Community Bonds

Mariam Al Hammadi, Director of TBHF, said: “Through SIARA, TBHF aims to strengthen all aspects of humanitarian action. We believe that meeting the emotional and psychological needs of refugees and displaced people is just as important as meeting their food, health and shelter needs.

“In the multicultural environment of Jordan, which hosts more than 750,000 refugees and asylum seekers, 7Hills has played a crucial role in strengthening community development and building social bonds between people of different cultures, different social and racial origins. Its skate program, developed in response to the need for inclusive public spaces, today improves the lives and realities of refugee populations of more than 10 different nationalities. Skateboarding and outreach programs further create opportunities for increased youth engagement that supports freedom, autonomy and solidarity,” she noted.

The Director of TBHF added, “TBHF celebrates humanitarian organizations that implement creative ideas and programs to enrich the lives of refugee communities. One of 7Hills’ most notable achievements is its focus on uplifting youth culture and its role in enhancing social development by consolidating the values ​​of cooperation and partnership among all groups. Using their free time to allow young people to pursue interests that benefit them and their communities imbues them with a positive spirit and lessens any feelings of isolation. Social change clearly begins with the elevation of youth culture.

7Hills for Social Development, which launched its crowdfunding campaign in 2014 to build Jordan’s first skatepark, was selected from 177 nominations received from 39 countries around the world for the sixth edition of SIARA. The 2022 SIARA Awards Ceremony will take place on Monday, June 27 at the House of Wisdom in Sharjah.

Launched in collaboration with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the award is under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah, and his wife , Sheikha Jawaher bint Mohammad. Al Qasimi, President of TBHF and prominent UNHCR advocate for refugee children.

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Joel C. Hicks