3 Questions with Maram Khalil and Al’a Ghazi Hussain Essa: Economic Opportunity for Youth


Maram Khalil and Al’a Ghazi Hussain Essa are young professionals in Jordan’s hospitality industry. Through the USAID Jordan Building Economic Sustainability through Tourism (BEST) project, they are gaining opportunities for professional development and personal growth. In this blog series highlighting youth economic opportunity, Maram and Al’a reflect on their experience with Jordan BEST’s Pathways to Professionalism Program.

Can you tell us about your career goals and experience as a young professional in Jordan?

Maram Khalil: I am establishing my career in the hospitality industry and hope to gain career fame through hotels. I also aim to be more creative in the field of cooking. The Pathways to Professionalism program is giving me positive exposure as a chef. My manager told me that I should join the program because he saw something special in how I approached my job with interest, energy, and enthusiasm. In the future, I would love to become one of the most famous chefs in the whole world, to be more creative, to have my own cooking program on television, and possibly to have my own restaurant chain. My goal is to teach what I have been taught to the next generation.

Al’a Ghazi Hussain Essa: I have had a passion for cooking from an early age and my family advised me to follow a career path in the hotel sector, so I thought that I would at least try it as a first job. Once I gained my first experience in a kitchen environment, I was hooked. The industry offers a wide range of exciting job opportunities. During our total life span we spend more than 75 percent of our time in a professional work environment. It is logical that we not only seek progression and promotions, but also seek to improve our personal quality of life and to learn new things and gain new experiences. The Pathways to Professionalism program helped me improve and elevate my cooking skills to a professional level that is comparable with international standards. I was an experienced cook before, but this program just brought my skill set to a whole other superior level. It gives me transferable qualifications, recognition, and will make me an important person in the hospitality industry.

What do you see as the biggest opportunity and the biggest challenge for you as a youth worker in Jordan? What do you see as the biggest opportunity and challenge for the “future of work” in Jordan?

Maram Khalil: The biggest opportunity is the increasing number of jobs in the industry and society’s growing acceptance of women working in the tourism business. The challenge is because I am a female I always have to be stronger and better than my male friends in the kitchen. I always have to compete hard for promotions and to overcome “female” barriers. Our society does not favor females working with males in the same room. As a single female working in this department, it is even more difficult. I encourage every woman that loves cooking to join the Pathways to Professionalism program and eliminate this culture of shame. I can’t deny that it was tough for me at first, but over time I got used to it and I am very happy that I did it. Opportunities are bright for the future of cooking in Jordan. Good cooks make good food, which makes Jordan attractive in the eyes of tourists. Attracting more tourists to Jordan’s hotels and restaurants will result in a stronger economy. In addition, the expansion of new hotels and restaurants will provide good career and job opportunities for the youth of Jordan.

Al’a Ghazi Hussain Essa: The biggest challenge is the high cost of taking courses or training at formal institutions in Jordan. There are not enough culinary institutes or universities offering education or training that is affordable. Young people, such as myself, who come from large families cannot draw on family funds to enter higher education or training institutions. We are obliged to take up employment to support our own education. The Pathways scheme allows us to earn a salary, train on the job, and graduate with a formal, nationally approved certification. The number of excellent five-star hotels are increasing in Jordan, so opportunities to expand my experience and career are expanding. The challenge is gaining new qualifications and continuing to learn new skills. There are a lot of new hotels opening in Jordan which opens a lot of opportunities for young professionals like me and creates a need for people to work in this industry.

How has your relationship with the Jordan Building Economic Sustainability through Tourism (BEST) Project helped you work toward your goals as a chef?

Maram Khalil: Through Jordan BEST’s Pathways to Professionalism program, I took a cooking entry exam. Then they interviewed me and gave me another exam. I passed with flying colors and then received my certificate, which is nationally recognized and puts me on the right path to become an executive chef in the near future. This program brought my cooking skills to another level and as a female in this industry I am very excited that I am well-recognized by my peers and colleagues. The Pathways scheme challenges me to learn more about cooking and improve my skills by taking more practical cooking exams and participating in cooking competitions. In the future, I have the chance to teach cooking to many people and to encourage them to specialize in cooking if that is what they love or have a desire for.

Al’a Ghazi Hussain Essa: Thanks to the Pathways scheme, I can develop my professional qualifications in the hospitality industry. I believe that this program is guiding me in the right direction to one day be an executive chef in a prestigious hotel. At first I took the online exam and got a 94 percent grade. After that I took the practical exam and scored 97 percent, which is the highest grade scored by all test takers. Since the practical exam, we have been training very hard in the Pathways to Professional scheme to achieve higher levels. I have also helped many other junior chefs to join and aim for completing the scheme.

Learn more about the USAID Jordan Building Economic Sustainability through Tourism (BEST) project and Chemonics’ work related to youth and economic growth.

Posted in: Education and Youth
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