Jordanian Women Economically Advance Making Cheese

Speeches Shim

Tuesday, January 5, 2021
A trainee at the Zaharat as-Sahra Dairy Project

It’s mid afternoon in Amman, Jordan and the USAID-supported Habibi Valtiberina Association facility in Saint Joseph Parish Church is bustling in preparation for the day’s business. The Italian organization runs the Saint Joseph Pizza Project, a program that provides culinary and food service training to Iraqi Christians who fled ISIS persecution in northern Iraq. The trainees practice their skills in a full service restaurant situated in the church complex. The kitchen is full of energy as a group of chefs chop colorful vegetables, mix pizza dough, and lay fresh pastas out to dry.

In one area of the kitchen, a chef places a large round of artisan cheese on a cutting board. With a trained eye, he slices delicate triangles onto a platter. This cheese is a product of the USAID-funded Zaharat as-Sahra Dairy Project, a cheesemaking business run by the Habibi Valtiberina Association. Zaharat as-sahra, meaning “the flower of the desert,” supports economically vulnerable women in Ader, a village in the Karak Governorate.

Equitable access to economic opportunities is a hallmark of successful pluralistic societies. In Jordan, high unemployment and daily economic challenges pervade the lives of many, including religious and ethnic minorities. Despite Jordan boasting an education system accessible to both men and women, societal expectations and cultural traditions make economic advancement for women difficult. As a result, fewer than one-fifth of Jordanian women participate in the workforce.

Cheese with US/Jordan Flags

The Habibi Valtiberina Association established the Zaharat as-Sahra Dairy Project in 2018 as a pilot program. In December 2019, USAID awarded them a grant to modernize the cheesemaking facility and train twelve Jordanian women in the production, marketing, and distribution of cheese using local sheep’s milk. The cheesemaking facility also includes a tasting room in a 1,000 year-old grotto that attracts domestic and international tourism, emblematic of Jordan’s planned post-COVID-19 tourism boom.

The Zaharat as-Sahra Dairy Project produces artisanal cheese using traditional Italian methods. A skilled and experienced artisan cheesemaker from Italy trained the women to make Italian-style ricotta and pecorino. Products are sold in both Karak and Amman, in addition to being used in all of the dishes offered at the Saint Joseph Pizzeria.

The Saint Joseph Pizzeria project combines the art of Italian cuisine with locally sourced Jordanian raw materials and has become a popular spot in the community, serving up fresh artisanal Italian food staples while also celebrating the rich mosaic of Jordanian pluralism. USAID’s partnership with the Habibi Valtiberina Association is part of the Agency’s work with local organizations to advance inclusive economic growth and promote religious pluralism.