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In Jordan, a unique woman-owned business helps children learn and thrive through play

December 15, 2016

Every few seconds, the narrow wooden floor creaks as a group of giggling children moves through the halls of Carnaval Play & Learn, an after-school and summer program in the city of Zarqa, Jordan. At Carnaval, it is not unusual to see little kids dressed up as princesses and pirates, while others climb a small rock wall. Each laugh and slam of the door is music to the ears of Eman Awamleh, a local mother-turned-entrepreneur who founded this one-of-a-kind center.

Eman Awamleh stands in her business, Carnaval Play & Learn, a unique after-school program for children in Jordan.Eman’s story starts with her belief that a different kind of learning center was needed in Zarqa, an industrial community near Amman that does not have enough recreational activities for children. When Eman’s son, Yanal, was 2 years old, she looked for creative learning programs for him, without any luck. “I quickly grew frustrated,” she stated. “All the centers were either too expensive or didn’t offer what I was looking for. Plus, all the content that I found online was in English, and I knew it just wasn’t the right fit.”

Eman believes that creative and imaginative play is a natural way for children to learn about the world. She set out to design her own curriculum for her son that combined fun with constructive learning experiences. Her friends noticed how effective her curriculum was, and they started sending their children to her house after school and on the weekends. Later, Eman began freelance teaching the program as an extracurricular activity in different private schools around Amman.

After five years, she decided to open her own center. Her idea was to create a program that teaches children critical and creative thinking, and that fosters intellectual curiosity through play and fun activities. In April 2016, Eman opened Carnaval Play & Learn with a small business grant from the USAID Jordan Local Enterprise Support (LENS) project.

The center benefits not just children, but the entire community. Carnaval employs almost 20 women, which helps them become active members of the local economy. It also gives adults in the community a chance to develop skills that can be turned into careers — skills such as drawing, handicrafts and fashion design. Eman says, “We encourage stay-at-home mothers to come to the center to take a course. We provide them with all the supplies and build the schedule around their availability with incredibly easy payment terms. And the best part is that their children have a safe place to spend time while [the mothers] are taking their lesson.”

In Zarqa, small businesses like Eman’s are rare, especially woman-owned businesses. Parents clearly value the unique activities Carnaval offers: Some parents make a 30-minute trip every day just to take their kids to and from the center. Eman says that at the center, “We try to give children an experience that’s unlike anything they’ve ever seen, something they’ll never learn and experience in school or from television.”

Photo caption: Eman Awamleh stands in her business, Carnaval Play & Learn, a unique after-school program for children in Jordan.

Photo credit: Mohammed Maghayda/USAID Jordan