An Emirati woman speaking Thai or Mandarin is not something usually heard on a Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT) campus. But Dana Al Mulla, 21, discovered she had a knack for languages while on a corporate-sponsored trip and took the opportunity to learn both languages.
The Sharjah Women's College (SWC) student was one of 12 business students who recently travelled to China on a humanitarian trip as part of an educational programme sponsored by PepsiCo.
Linda Habibi, a member of SWC business faculty, initiated and inaugurated the college's now annual business trips in 2006. They are sponsored by the soft drinks corporation in association with Habitat for Humanity.
The trips cover PepsiCo's Africa, Middle East and Asia sectors, with next year's destination leaning towards India or South Korea, said Habibi.
"I started this initiative because I wanted our Emirati students to gain a better understanding of global humanitarian initiatives," said Habibi. "I wanted them to gain hands-on experience in helping others, especially those living in poverty."
Habitat for Humanity is an international organisation with a vision and a mission to eradicate homelessness by helping impoverished people build their own homes.
For Dana a journey all the way to China to help build a small housing complex for a handful of families came in an addition to other humanitarian work. This trip was her second SWC business trip as she joined last year's group that went to Thailand. She is a member of the Basma volunteering club at SWC, which is now part of the Sharjah Union Co-operative organisation.
"For me to know that I've put a smile on someone's face is a big thing for me," she said.
"Be it a poor person or a disabled person, I really don't mind tiring myself out just to see them smile."
She also used both journeys as opportunities to learn and explore new languages and cultures.
"We had a guide with us at all times and I used this chance to learn the languages," she said.
"[In Thailand] he'd teach me words and I'd learn how to pronounce as well as write them…when the other girls wanted to communicate something they'd come to me."
Abrar Al Ali, 20, joined the SWC delegation to China earlier this year because she saw humanitarian work as a good opportunity to represent her country and college. "I wanted to show people that Emirati students are very capable of doing humanitarian work involving physical labour," she said.
"Although the hardest part was carrying the bricks to build the house, it changed me."
Both Dana and Abrar were affected when they witnessed first hand the poverty in which people live, something they had never seen before. "We honestly have to thank Allah for everything we have even if it's not the best," said Dana.
"We saw how these people live and eat and it was terrible, but they were still so kind and generous."
Habibi believes such an experience serves as a learning curve not only to individually benefit the Emirati students by helping them gain independence and confidence, but to also appreciate their fortunes and change their lives and habits accordingly.
"Some of the girls were appalled at the conditions in which some people live across the world," said Habibi.
"The experience really opened their eyes to the realities of poverty, making them realise just how lucky they are and that it is their duty to help others less fortunate."
From / Gulf News