Ayman Al-Swaiti is a canteen manager at the UNRWA Wadi Seer Training Centre (WSTC) in Amman, Jordan. Last year, Ayman initiated an awareness campaign to encourage students to stop smoking. “Five years ago, when I started working here at Wadi Seer, I was a smoker,” admits Ayman, who is a contractor with UNRWA. “At some point, I realized that a lot of students were compromising their health and wasting their money on cigarettes. I wanted to encourage them to stop smoking but, as a smoker myself, I didn’t have any credibility. So, I decided to quit and I started my own anti-smoking awareness campaign,” he says.
Ayman still remembers the first student whom he helped to quit smoking, a boy named Ramzi. When Ramzi quit, Ayman realized that he might be able to convince other students to stop as well. Ayman’s success in influencing Ramzi encouraged him to continue and during the last year only, Ayman’s awareness campaign led 25 WSTC students to quit smoking.
But, how does he do it? First of all, he spends time explaining to students about the negative impact of smoking, ranging from compromising their health to wasting their money. Then, to showcase the importance of such a decision, Ayman rewards them with a celebration.
“Every time a student quits smoking, I organize a party in the WSTC, inviting UNRWA staff members and WSTC teachers and students. The celebration is focused on the student, and as a symbolic recognition for his effort, I bake a homemade cinnamon roll for him,” says Ayman, underlining the importance of a gesture that could seem worthless but is becoming a synonym of positive change among WSTC students. Omar (16 years old), a mechanic student at WSTC, admits that quitting is not easy. He says, “The most difficult part is the first week when you are surrounded by all your friends and everybody is smoking except you!”
Ayman's anti-smoking awareness campaign is not the only motivation for the students to quit smoking. There is also a personal motivation behind the students’ choices. “I started smoking when I was 15 because all my friends were smokers. I realized that smoking was affecting me when I struggled to make the stairs. I was barely able to reach the third floor of my apartment building, and I live on the sixth floor! After quitting, I noticed how easy it was to reach my place,” says 21-year-old Mohammad, who is studying to become an electro-mechanical plumbing and central heating engineer. Whereas, for 18-year-old Ali, quitting smoking meant a lot to him and his family. “Before, I used to ask my family for 70 JDs per month to buy cigarettes. Then, my father got sick and I realized how much his medicine costs. For this reason, I decided to quit smoking to save money and help my family in paying the expenses for my father’s treatment.”
The awareness campaign conducted by Ayman dovetails with the Agency’s “100 per cent smoke-free policy” that, since November 2016, has been implemented in all UNRWA premises. Except for Designated Smoking Areas, this policy forbids smoking and the use of any tobacco products in elementary, preparatory and secondary schools, health facilities and, of course, vocational training centres, such as the one located in Wadi Seer. “My goal for this year is to convince 100 WSTC students to quit smoking, and I am confident I will reach my objective!” says Ayman proudly.