Meet the volunteers equipping trails across Jordan

Members of Utruk Bassma pose in front of a stone ladder installed during their latest event in a wadi near Shobak
Members of Utruk Bassma pose in front of a stone ladder installed during their latest event in a wadi near Shobak. (Photo: Handout from Utruk Bassma)
AMMAN — On a sunny afternoon in the early days of spring, a group of youth carrying drills and ropes descended into a wild canyon near Shobak, in the central mountains of Jordan. What they left behind was barely noticeable — a natural staircase made of stones taken from the riverbed. Their goal; to improve the accessibility of Wadi Al-Nakhil ahead of summer, the peak visiting season for the wadis.اضافة اعلان

This is “Utruk Bassma” (Leave a fingerprint); a community of nature-lovers on a mission to clean and equip Jordan’s natural places, and serve those who visit them. 

“The idea behind our initiative started with a hike we did in Wadi Numeira, a narrow canyon blocked in the middle by a large rock. Half of the group could not pass this obstacle and were deprived from seeing the rest of the wadi and the beauty behind,” Waseem Al-Abbadi and Mohammad Mograbi, two of the founders of Utruk Bassma, told Jordan News.

They returned to the wadi and installed metal stairs, “to allow people who don’t have the physical ability to pass the obstacles, including the elderly and young children, to access the rest of the trail,” Abbadi added.

The two friends posted photos of the activity on social media, and received an unexpected amount of positive reactions from people thanking them for enabling their access to the wadi.

“Following this event, we created ‘Utruk Bassma’, structured around a Facebook community. The idea is to leave an invisible fingerprint, but one that marks the mind,” Abaddi explained. Their motto: leave the place better than you found it.

Leaving a positive mark

Utruk Bassma’s community has grown to reach around fifteen regular participants, in addition to the volunteers who join various events. The group has organized seven activities over the past fourteen months, including a cleanup hike to remove graffiti and trash in Wadi Numeira, and three tree-planting activities over the winter.

“Through this initiative, we meet many people who share our love for nature, mostly hikers and people from the local community,” Odai Abu-Nada, a 31-year old member of Utruk Bassma and regular organizer of hiking trips, told Jordan News.

Like Abu-Nada, many of the members are involved in ecotourism activities for profit. Yet the goal of this initiative is not to generate money, but “to help increase people’s appreciation for their country and for the nature around them,” according to Mograbi. 

Among future activities, the group would like to install signs and information boards at the entrance of wadis and offer environmental awareness activities in cooperation with local authorities.

“Since we started hiking, nature has taken care of us and provided us with something we needed,” Al-Abbadi explained. “We started thinking about giving back to nature. We started this initiative with this idea that we need to preserve nature to stay happy.” 

Local ecotourism is emerging in Jordan

Hiking communities have boomed in Jordan recently, raising hopes for the development of a strong ecotourism sector. According to Utruk Bassma’s founders, adventure groups really started multiplying over the past four years.

With its many wadis suited for climbing, hiking and canyoning, Jordan has a huge potential for ecotourism, but, according to actvists, the sector remains very unstructured. Few trails are marked and guides face challenges to obtain certifications and training.

“We hope to expand our network of volunteers at the scale of the Kingdom, and that local tourism companies will become interested in our activities,” Mograbi said. One of their aspirations is to benefit local ecotourism actors and all those who enjoy the outdoors.

“Through our trips all across the country, we have come to the realization that adventure groups must support the local community, that our activities must benefit them. If our initiatives don’t benefit the local community, then who will?” Abbadi added.

Challenges persist

Despite this enthusiasm, funding is a major challenge for the burgeoning initiative, as the organizers cover the cost of events out of their own pocket. 

There are also administrative hurdles. Currently, Utruk Bassma is a personal initiative with no formal status. “We need permits, a form of recognition. We need to be able to organize our events comfortably, without fearing to meet the police and have to explain what we are doing,” Abu-Nada explained. The founders tried to register the organization, but so far the process has been slowed down by COVID-19, with authorities reluctant to approve group activities and gatherings.

“Our initiative started around the same time as COVID-19 arrived in Jordan. In a way, this timing benefitted us because there were less people visiting the wadis, which made our work easier,” Abbadi recalls.

At the same time, “the events we wanted to organize were impacted by the curfews and lockdowns,” Abu-Nada added. “People also became scared of gathering and many would drop out at the last minute.”

The situation is “a double-edged sword,” according to Abbadi, who noted that thanks to the drop in tourism, “nature had time to recover, and animals returned to the wadis.”

Despite these challenges, Utruk Bassma hopes to leave a lasting mark on Jordanian ecotourism. “We want our Facebook community to gather hikers from all over Jordan, with a shared message: as we take from the environment, we must give in return,” Abbadi said.