Whilst Jordan as a whole is becoming increasingly popular for international tourists and boasts a number of impressive historical and natural attractions, Mafraq Governorate (where the GreenfieldCities campus will be located) is currently a part of Jordan that is rarely visited. The vast region that borders Syria to the north currently has no formally established hotels and lacks the basic amenities required to cater for tourists. During a recent trip to Jordan, Jessica Beaumont, a GreenfieldCities intern working on the development of the hospitality sector on the GFC campus visited some sites in Mafraq that demonstrate incredible potential for sustainable tourism development.
Of particular interest, only ten minutes by car from the GreenfieldCities campus the small town of Rihab is home to, ‘the oldest church in the world’. Dating to the period AD33-70, the small underground church supposedly served as a place of worship and a home. It is suggested that 70 persecuted Christians who fled from Jerusalem once used the church. These 70 people lived in the church, practicing their faith in total secrecy until the Romans embraced Christianity as a religion a few hundred years later. Accessible only by narrow stairs leading to the underground space, the church resembles a cave and is twelve meters long and seven meters wide. Even today several families in Rihab have their own keys to the Church to be able to pray there. Perhaps most striking about the site, is the evident sense of neglect and simultaneously the great potential for further exploration. Small holes in the ground in the immediate vicinity reveal additional underground spaces which are currently unexplored and in some cases filled with trash.
GreenfieldCities is helping to reduce youth unemployment in Mafraq and will help young people in Mafraq to turn their city into a thriving regional town. The existence of a heritage site of global proportions in Mafraq provides a perfect platform upon which to help realise these goals. Through the restoration of the church site and introduction of community based tourism in Rihab, GreenfieldCities can begin to open up Mafraq region for tourists, further supported by the campus’ hotel and high quality hospitality services.
As from today, GreenfieldCities will raise funds to rehabilitate the site and to return the church to a state acceptable for visitors. This can be done with relatively simple measures, such as improving access, adding basic amenities such as shading, drinking water and toilets. As with all GreenfieldCities activities, we seek solutions that are ultimately self-propelling. This means that we will help develop a small scale locally executed business model, allowing visitors to contribute to the conservation of the site and the growth of its spiritual and informative importance.
To reach our goals, we need approximately €50.000. With your donations, this should be possible. Besides rehabilitating the church and its surroundings, we also create between 10 and 20 sustainable jobs for young Jordanians and Syrians living in Rihab and Mafraq.