Capacity Building Workshop
From the Soils of Culture
 August 2013




In This Issue

Regional Mobility and Freedom of Movement Policy Agenda
From the Soils of Culture: The Qalb El-Umour Project in the Arab world


This project is funded by
the European Union

Safar/ Istikshaf Grants

Grant applications for the Safar/Istikshaf program are accepted throughout the month. The grant selection committee looks at the submitted applications in the first week of every month, provided that the application is submitted at least one month before the date of travel. For more information


International workshop with Praline Gay-Para and Abbi Patrix in La Maison du Conte / Chevilly-Larue / France , June 10 to 14, 2013.

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 About AEF

The Arab Education Forum is a non-governmental, not-for-profit organization active in the Arab World in the field of community and youth work . The mission of AEF is to contribute to an Arab cultural regeneration project that springs out of the inherent knowledge and experiences within the Arab societies


Istikshaf: Exploring Mobility
Regional Mobility and Freedom of Movement Policy Agenda
2012 – 2015

This Regional Mobility and Freedom of Movement Policy Agenda aims to develop closer links between a range of stakeholders including mobility operators, government agencies, foundations, donors, voluntary and community organizations, private sector companies, activists and individuals in delivering specific policies and positions and in understanding their impact.

The Arab Education Forum (Jordan), the International Association for Creation and Training (Egypt), and Roberto Cimetta Fund (France), in collaboration with 36 social and cultural organizations so far, indentified 4 policy areas that included 16 policy positions and recommendations and 21 advocacy actions that should be implemented on a regional level.


We aim to ensure true engagement of all key stakeholders in order to promote and adopt the concept of mobility within the national agendas in the region, with a focus on influencing the cities’ agendas and private sector strategies to acknowledge it as a central theme within its long term vision and strategies.


We aim to work with public and private sector institutions and the donor community in the region, in order to agree on clear and transparent mechanisms for allocating budgets and distributing funds to support mobility initiatives with no restrictions on receiving funds and donations.


We aim to reach for a free movement of people and ideas across the Arab Countries, where all borders are open without limitations, and to ensure all Arab citizens including artists, social entrepreneurs, men and women are capable of spreading social and cultural initiatives.


We aim to fully engage people to be supportive of art & culture, mobility initiatives, and the development of their societies, and to reduce the fear factors that limit the participation of men, women and youth from different backgrounds in developing their societies and engage in mobility and artistic initiatives.

Istikshaf Coalition Members will be engaged in advocating the policy positions by providing information and data, knowledge, expertise, in-kind and financial support in order to execute the technical and legal research, position papers, and campaigns.

To support the policy initiative, adopt Istikshaf mobility agenda, and for more information please visit , facebook page , contact us on , or call us at 00962-6- 568 7557.

From the Soils of Culture: The Qalb El-Umour Project in the Arab world

Every human being lives in and from a natural and cultural environment; i.e., from the soil of earth and the soil of culture, which s/he grew up in, lives in, and tries to make sense of. These two ‘soils’ are what sustain life and human communities, and also where real learning is embedded and takes place. After almost 40 years of working in education, it is very hard for me to talk about learning detached from these two soils. From this stems the importance and relevance of talking about learning spaces/environments/societies.

The soil of culture includes both a language/vernacular (which is usually very rich in history and meanings) as well as nonverbal modes of expression. In general, the current dominant language in education, knowledge, development, the professions, and mass media (which, unfortunately, is infiltrating even our everyday languages and lives) ignores these soils and their accompanying aspects. It is often divorced from history, life and ethics. Under claims of objectivity and universality, this dominant language often robs knowledge and understanding of the layers of experience through which people express what is human and real. It is usually handicapped in its ability to express and reflect the richness and complexity in life and cultural traditions, the diversity in human experiences, and the multiplicity of ways of living and making sense.

Although I did not use any of the above terms then, it was in 1971 that I started experimenting with learning as a life activity, separate and distinct from education. The expressions I used then included learning within context and how education confiscated learning, but I feel both of these expressions lacked the roots that the term “soil” has.

It was the ‘discovery’ of my illiterate mother’s math and knowledge, around the year 1976, that first turned things around in my head. Her math and knowledge were so embedded in her soil of culture that it is almost impossible to teach her type of math and her type of knowledge, using the means, methods, concepts, and structures of what we refer to as education — no matter how much we improve education! Her type of math and knowledge can only be learned and acquired through life itself; through living and doing in real settings and with real people. It would have been impossible for me to do what she was able to do, even if I spent another 20 years of study in the ‘best’ schools and universities and in the most prestigious math departments! Another significant aspect of my mother’s type of knowledge is the fact that she was able to make a living with her knowledge, in almost any setting, while my knowledge was ‘meaningful’ and earned money only in particular (mainly artificial and hegemonic) settings.1

That ‘discovery’ made me realizes that the problem with education is not only with what it offers but also, and more importantly, with what it conceals, marginalizes, makes invisible or renders worthless. The problem is with the values that education embodies in its assumptions and practices (which are very different from what it espouses in public).

The first Palestinian intifada, which started in 1987, provided the opportunity to work with these convictions at a community level. The intifada was a spontaneous collective popular way of saying “no more” [or bas in Arabic, or basta in the way the Zapatistas express it] to Israeli occupation and oppression. That response embodied values, relationships, attitudes, convictions and perceptions that sprang more from the two soils I referred to above. People, for example, depended more on what the earth soil produces and on what the cultural soil has. The first took forms such as boycotting Israeli goods and communal farming (which was banned by Israel through a military order in August 1988). However, what the intifada regenerated within the cultural/social soil is of greater significance, and thus is worth elaborating.

It was the first time in my life, during that first intifada that I lived in a community where all social structures were closed down or banned, and completely stopped functioning, except the family structure and the jaame’ (the mosque), both of which Israel could not close. (There are two words in Arabic, with two different meanings and functions, for what is referred to in English as mosque: masjid where people pray, and jaame’ where people assemble to talk, discuss and act, i.e. to run their affairs — which to me represents the real meaning of what is referred to today as democracy.) These two structures (the family and the jaame’) were the basic elements that kept the Palestinian community surviving and functioning during that period. They are basic elements in the cultural soil in which people live and are nurtured by..Due to the closure of all institutions (for example, all Palestinian schools and universities were closed by Israel for more than four years), the jaame’ was the only place where people of all ages, walks of life, and backgrounds, could meet. After an attack by the army on a village, for example, medical groups would establish a temporary clinic in the jaame’ and start attending to the wounded. The jaame’ was the place where food was distributed to the needy. It was the natural medium, with its minaret and loudspeakers, to inform people about what was happening in the community and about approaching dangers. It was one place where popular education took place in the neighborhoods (which also was banned through an Israeli military order in August 1988). The other ‘cultural structure’ that Israel could not close down, was the family structure with the tremendous resourcefulness that that institution has: human warmth, hospitality, generosity, mutual support and the spirit of giving and sharing.
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