Why millions in US aid may help few Iraqi refugees in the end
New Jordanian schools, built in part with US aid for Iraqi refugees, may end up serving few Iraqis. But some say that's OK – Jordanians often needed more help.
Jordan, one of two main destinations for Iraqis displaced by the US-led war, has received nearly $400 million in aid designed to help as many as 1 million Iraqis reported to have fled there. Much of the aid came from the United States and went to the Jordanian government directly.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Christians in Iraq
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The idea was that donors would help Jordan, and Jordan would help the Iraqis.
But it's now widely recognized that the actual number of Iraqis in Jordan is vastly smaller than originally thought. The inflated numbers mean more aid went to the Jordanian government, and some argue that that prevented the Iraqis from getting effective assistance.
"We could have dealt with 50,000 refugees, who had very little, much more effectively, provided the funding had been appropriate," says Harriet Dodd, who was country director for CARE International in Jordan during the crisis.
Indeed, many nongovernmental organization workers, academics, and independent researchers now say that the aid has failed to provide the help Iraqis needed, while significant funding went to programs that suited Jordan's national priorities – and thus, some argue, it aided Jordanians more than Iraqis.
Officials from the US Agency for International Development (USAID) counter that building up local institutions like schools, hospitals, and water systems is the only effective and fair way to help the Iraqis.
A 'revolutionary' school
A prime example is a school in Dahiet Amir Hasan in East Amman being built with help from USAID. It is only half finished, but it's clear that it will be offering a very different kind of education from that offered at Jordan's other government-run schools.
The classrooms are spacious, and there's a gym, an art studio, and a music room. Downstairs are science labs, equipped with vapor hoods, sinks, and Bunsen burners, and set up for students to conduct experiments in groups.
None of it would seem out of place to an American 12-year-old, but in a country where rote learning is still the basis of most education, it's almost revolutionary.
"It's really based upon a new philosophy of teaching," says Jay Knott, head of USAID in Jordan, which is behind the project. "In the 21st century, teaching kids by rote method is ... not going to advance you toward the vision of a knowledge-based economy."
USAID is putting up these incredible schools in low-income neighborhoods all over Jordan; 28 are currently in the works. The agency is also renovating and expanding 100 existing schools, boosting Jordan's government as it struggles to meet the educational needs of a young and rapidly growing population.
But a portion of this work is being done with money allocated by Congress to aid Iraqi refugees in Jordan.
All Iraqi children have, since 2007, been officially allowed to attend Jordanian government schools. Funding from international donors helped make that possible, and Mr. Knott says US funding is helping to relieve some of the burden those schools have shouldered by educating Iraqis as well as Jordanians.
While some displaced Iraqis will surely benefit from the new schools, many of the most needy have been resettled to third countries, and more will be gone long before the first of the schools that are supposed to serve them opens in September 2011. Schools built in expectation of hundreds of poor Iraqi students may end up serving only handfuls, or none at all.