Emily Hylton has experienced both heartbreak and awe since she helped open Al Hassan Workers’ Center, Jordan’s first community center to serve migrant factory workers.
“You witness workers facing anxiety about separation from family and stressing about money issues, and who may be dealing with violence or exploitation,” she says. “But at the same time, you see people work a 90-hour week, then go out of their way to make space for others in their community, offering aid or teaching classes. It’s inspiring and humbling.”
After joining Better Work Jordan in 2012, Hylton was tasked with opening the Workers’ Center in Jordan’s largest industrial zone. The center now serves more than 1,000 migrant workers weekly, offering skills training, legal aid and social and health services.
“The center is one of few spaces in the industrial zone that is the workers’ own,” explains Hylton. “It feels physically different to walk into a space where they are respected as workers; it restores a sense of humanity, and workers are clearly happier. Together, these things help lift community health.”
Hylton’s earlier work with Friends of the Earth Middle East and Frontline Solutions inspired her interest in public health. The organizations allowed her to engage in environmental advocacy work in the West Bank and report on symposia that looked through a public health lens at violence in major U.S. cities. Both experiences impressed upon her how sustained trauma affects the health of communities, creating a cycle of violence.
“The parallels made me interested in looking at the epidemiology of violence and trauma,” she says.
Hylton wants to expand her quantitative skills and expertise in designing programs that promote healthy community building in vulnerable populations. She’s also excited to embrace Baltimore. “It’s a community that’s starting to stand up for itself and fight for justice,” she says. “I think I’ll have a lot to learn here.”
Senior Fellow, Frontline Solutions; PhD Student, Clinical Psychology, University of Miami