Afnan Khalil, a twelfth grader from Aqaba, has taken a pioneering step among other girls from her city as she begins an education in pursuit of the career she dreams about: to be a chef. She was one of the first batch of 16 young women to enroll in the newly established Fundukia Program at the Aqaba Secondary School for Females, which launched last year. This is Jordan’s first public secondary school to offer the vocational education stream in hospitality and tourism for women, and this important initiative was achieved with support from the USAID tourism project.
Afnan’s brother and sister work in the hospitality industry, however her parents were hesitant about her choice of the Fundukia program as they wanted her to pursue medicine. Afnan’s two other sisters are doctors but she had noticed they were having a hard time finding good jobs, so she was determined to chase her dream of working in a hotel.
“I was lucky the new Fundukia stream was launched last year, as soon as I heard about it I knew it was for me. My parents weren’t exactly unsupportive, but they thought it was odd to choose hospitality over being a doctor. I love the idea of working in hospitality and especially hotels. You get to meet people from around the world and learn about new places and cultures,” Afnan explained.
The acceptance of Afnan’s and other girls’ families is in itself a true success, as these same young ladies faced major challenges gaining permission to enter the hospitality program to start with because of prevailing misconceptions about the hospitality industry. This shift in thinking was largely influenced by the numerous school awareness visits conducted by the USAID tourism project throughout the school year for both students and parents, as well as the determination of the students themselves to study hospitality.
“Since my siblings work in hospitality my parents had a good idea of what it means so it was easier for them to accept me studying it. Some of the other girls have had a much harder time convincing their parents though; they don’t think a hotel is a suitable place for women to work. The girls are really determined though and they are bringing them around to the idea. The awareness sessions helped a lot because the parents got to see firsthand what hospitality is all about.”
“I know I made the right choice to study hospitality. After graduation I plan to study hotel management while working part-time in a hotel, so I will gain a degree and work experience at the same time. Then I want to attend La Roche Royal Academy for Culinary Arts as I have always wanted to be a chef.”
Despite a conservative society reluctant to look beyond traditional roles and careers for women such as housewife/ teacher/doctor, Afnan and her fellow students at the Aqaba Fundukia School exemplify a generation of Jordanian women that are more aware and determined to forge careers and livelihoods for themselves in a growing industry that promises a bright future.