7Hills for Social Development wins sixth International Award for Refugee Advocacy and Support

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

The sixth edition of the Award, valued at AED 500,000, was given to 7Hills for Social Development in recognition of its outstanding role in launching creative empowerment programmes aimed at the integration of young refugees with the host community in Jordan. With its innovative strategy of transforming unused public spaces into safe creative places to help build positive new communities, 7 Hills is enhancing creative and recreational development and creating an integrated new future for Jordanian refugees and in hosting communities.

Through its practices and the range of activities it offers, 7 Hills provides a window for young people to develop and hone their creative abilities. Such practices pave the way for self-discovery and allows the refugee youth to build on their capabilities within a supportive and inclusive community in a safe public space. In 2020-21, the number of beneficiaries totalled more than 2,000 young men and women, 45% of whom are females and 60% are refugees and displaced persons.

By developing a dedicated space for skateboarding, the organization provides a creative and inspiring outlet for children and youth to learn new skills and build confidence. Combining skateboarding with creative and informal education initiatives is boosting the psychological and emotional health of refugees in these areas, and building resilience amongst all age groups of children, youth and parents.

Designing for refugee integration

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

The SIARA 2022 winner focuses on the optimal use of public creative spaces to engage young refugees in an array of social activities. The redeveloped urban space is today enabling refugees to connect to places, create positive memories, bolster communication and reinforce their integration with the host community. Young refugees are also developing leadership capabilities and using their newly acquired to train others and strengthen their physical and psychological health.

The community approach adopted by the Amman-based entity and Al Raseef 153, the social enterprise arm of 7Hills, comprises an inclusive programme that focuses on multiple pillars and encompasses youth leadership training and courses across young refugees in Jordan. Every year, more than 250 youth – of which 50 per cent are refugees – learn to build leadership and vocational skills at the creative youth hub.

Dialogue and partnership

The organization’s activities support socio-economic, and cultural cohesion through awareness courses and informal edutainment programmes. It offers free skateboarding equipment, as well as arts and crafts activities, in addition to educational tools to enrich beneficiaries.

Through its practices and the range of activities it offers, 7 Hills provides a window for young people to develop and hone their creative abilities. Such practices pave the way for self-discovery and allows the refugee youth to build on their capabilities within a supportive and inclusive community in a safe public space. In 2020-21, the number of beneficiaries totalled more than 2,000 young men and women, 45% of whom are females and 60% are refugees and displaced persons.

Under 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, migrant and refugee communities including Syrian, Palestinian, Lebanese, Sudanese, Somali, Yemeni, Egyptian, Nigerian, Filipino, and Iraqi youth who have close relations with the Jordanian community.

Creating opportunities for youth through leadership programmes

7Hills implements leadership programmes to empower the youth in becoming active members of the community and encourages them to work with the organization’s team and contribute to the development and management of its programmes. Furthermore, graduates from the programme are given the opportunity to manage the weekly free skateboarding classes dedicated to refugees to bolster social cohesion with host communities.

7Hills also has a range of programmes and initiatives that serve young people who live in remote areas on the outskirts of Amman. It prioritizes the needs of young people from refugee camps in Jordan and differently abled youth and aims to construct a new child and disabled-friendly park.

Strengthening community bonds

Mariam Al Hammadi, Director of TBHF, said: “Through SIARA, TBHF aims to bolster all aspects of humanitarian action. We believe that the fulfilment of emotional and psychological needs of refugees and displaced peoples are just as important as meeting their requirements in food, health, and shelter.”

“In the multicultural environment in Jordan, which hosts more than 750,000 refugees and asylum seekers, 7Hills has played a crucial role in strengthening community development and forging social bonds between people of different cultures, social and racial backgrounds. Its skate programme, developed in response to the need for inclusive public spaces, is today improving the lives and realities of refugee populations of more than 10 different nationalities. The skateboarding and outreach programmes are further creating opportunities for higher youth engagement that supports freedom, self-reliance, and solidarity,” she noted.

The TBHF Director added: “TBHF celebrates humanitarian organizations that implement creative ideas and programmes to enrich the lives of refugee communities. One of the most impactful achievements of 7Hills is its focus on elevating youth culture and its role in strengthening social development by consolidating the values of cooperation and partnership amongst all groups. Harnessing their leisure time to enable young people pursue interests that benefit them and their communities imbues them with a positive spirit and diminishes any feeling of isolation. Social change clearly begins with the elevation of youth culture.”

7Hills for Social Development, which began its crowdfunding campaign in 2014 to build Jordan’s first skatepark, was selected from among the 177 nominations received from 39 countries worldwide for the sixth edition of SIARA. The award ceremony of SIARA 2022 will be held 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 held under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah, and his wife, Sheikha Jawaher bint Mohammed Al Qassimi, Chairperson of TBHF and UNHCR Eminent Advocate for Refugee Children.