An old Arabic proverb says if you educate a woman, you educate an entire nation. It is a saying the Al Maktoum Foundation has taken as a fundamental principle for its work.
Over the years the foundation has built, and operates, nearly 40 schools in Africa. It is at one of these schools tucked away in a rural town in Kenya that a small group of Emirati students from Zayed University (ZU) found their calling.
Fatima Al Sayegh, Khadija Al Abbas and Arwa Al Mazroui's lives changed when their capstone graduation project landed them at a girl's school in the Kenyan town of Kajiado. Their project is Al Bedayah (Arabic for ‘the beginning') and the idea is to promote self-learning through the social media.
Their proposal was to create a website to essentially be a social media portal for self-education, on which they would tutor students in Africa. Their idea was such a hit they received the sponsorship and backing of the Al Maktoum Foundation, which exists under the patronage of Shaikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Deputy Ruler of Dubai and Minister of Finance.
"The notion that students here in the UAE would help other students in Africa learn about social media was a powerful proposition," said project supervisor, Dr Badran Badra, Professor of Communication and Media Sciences at ZU.
"However, I wasn't totally surprised to see an idea like Al Bedaya because of the UAE's strong tradition of helping other nations."
He added it was therefore not unusual to see Emirate students looking to other countries and societies to extend their humanitarian work.
Al Bedaya is a website that incorporates different free online tools such as Google and Wikipedia, with the aim of promoting self-education. However, the idea stemmed from the students' own learning experience at university.
"As university students, we believe most of the knowledge we've retained through the years is information we sought out on our own through our investigative research," said Fatima. "We therefore believe self-education is the best kind and as the saying goes: a formal education will make you a living, but self-education will make you a fortune."
The website www.al-bedaya.org is split into three parts: lessons, research and fun. During their eight-day trip to Kenya the ZU students tutored over 40 female students. The students learned how to access free education web tools such as BBC Learning in order to quench their thirst for knowledge.
"The website essentially teaches how to use Google and social networking sites because of the vast amounts of news we get on Twitter for example," said Fatima. "The tutorial includes blogs and sites like YouTube and most useful Web2.0
user-generated interaction sites to bring the global village to the tip of the students' fingers."
Mohammad Bin Ganem, Secretary General of the Al Maktoum Foundation, said an initiative like Al Bedaya has a reciprocal benefit for both sets of students.
"It is important for our country's young women to know other civilisations around them and see how they suffer and struggle to survive," said Bin Ganem. "In our country, the UAE, the youth take everything for granted and therefore if they see the realities of life in other nations their perspectives will change."
Fatima affirms Bin Ganem's opinion as the recent public relations and advertising graduate believes she has found her calling in Al Bedaya. "I never thought my capstone project would be what I'd want to do for a living but it is," she said.
"It's not something I expect to find a profit from because it's more personal, but right now we are exhausting all our efforts to keep Al Bedaya alive."
The recent ZU graduates are in talks with the Al Maktoum Foundation to continue the project in more of the foundation's African schools. This initiative not only educates African students to equip them for the development of their nations but to serve as an example for African women.
"When we asked some of the girls if they think they can have an impact on their society they weren't very positive; because in their culture a woman's place is in the kitchen," said Fatima.
"[But] as Emirati women we were an example to them because years ago, in a culture with similar views as theirs; no one would have thought we'd now see women taking up active and powerful roles in our society."
From / Gulf News