The Voice of a Saudi Student on International Women's Day
As an ESL educator overseas, you come across all types of students. We know that they come in different age groups and display various types of talents. There are many curious, motivated, and gifted students shining brightly around the world. To the contrary, there are also students with potential, but who choose not to try. You struggle hard to encourage and inspire them, with the understanding that ultimately, it is up to them to choose to receive your invitation to learn.
And then, on that special occasion, you find yourself encountering that particular student who inspires you in a new and refreshing way.
This one is uniquely exceptional.
Now, this is not to say that the student is perfect and therefore not teachable. It is quite the opposite, actually. This is a student who is thirsty for knowledge. Because the student wants to learn, you can share more to be learned. At the same time, as he or she learns from you, you are learning from him or her. This is the symbiotic educational process. It has always been my philosophy and experience that the best teaching environments are such where the students and the teachers learn from one another and grow together. I am having such an experience within my new teaching assignment: a Women's College among the desert sands in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
To be here is an amazing honor and an achievement of a long-time goal. Plenty can be shared about my opportunity to be a tool for good as Saudi's young adults prepare to learn, to work, and to achieve the mission set forth in the country's 2030 Vision. However, I do not wish to focus on myself, but instead on this extraordinary student and her exemplary project. After encountering her work, I was amazed, and received her permission to not only present her project here, but also to share her name by request.
Buthaina al-Turki, along with the entire student body, was given the task to do whatever she wished to celebrate International Women's Day throughout the week at our college. It was a huge and wonderful affair, full of energy and excitement. All of the students put in hard work for several days to come up with their particular message. Each presentation was carefully considered and thoroughly researched. Students learned about Saudi female pioneers both within and outside of the Kingdom, as well as women of achievement on a global scale. There was a walkathon, an Eco-friendly planting event, tokens of appreciation given to teachers, presentations on laws and customs, and plays about encouragement through trials. The event finale was one for the college history books, and everyone left feeling alive and rejuvenated.
Just before preparing to leave for the day, I went around to classrooms I didn't get to visit earlier to take pictures for a photo album of our day. When I went into one classroom, I saw a PowerPoint presentation projected on the wall, and a plain print of a two-page essay taped to the class whiteboard. The woman's eyes peering through her protective hijab (head scarf) and niqab (face scarf) from the Google image peeked at me from the paper, beckoning me to read the letters written below and beside them. In the quietude of the campus at the end of the day, when almost all of the students were gone, I read the essay, thinking that it was an actual news article. Unbeknownst to me, it was a personal reflection of Buthaina's mind, of her experiment with mindfulness and use of this event to teach not just the random student who passed by, but to teach the teacher – someone like me – who was familiar with, but not fully aware, of what it is like for a Saudi woman to consider her own role and stature in society. Rather than accepting the myriad of “uninvited opinions” given by others, she decided to use her own voice to inform and instruct. I was amazed, but not surprised, when I learned from her tutor that she in fact was the author of the piece.
When I approached Buthaina to request permission to write an article about her piece, she wanted to make it clear that she did receive some help from her sister, Arwa. It is not surprising that a skilled English student such as herself has deep resources of English speakers at home: one of her other sisters, Khawla, is herself a beloved ESL teacher and colleague of mine at the college. While she could have written the article in Arabic to guarantee most people would read it, Buthaina chose to challenge herself to communicate her personal thoughts to paper in another language.
This desire to express herself in such a thoughtful way is what makes her extraordinary.
Now, without further ado, here is the text of Buthaina's article, with a few corrections to maintain flow:
“Many people think that Saudi Arabia is considered one of the worst places for women to live in just because of the fact that Saudi women have no right to drive any kind of vehicle and she has to cover her face or at least wear the Hijab. Regarding covering the face, [it] is not just a rule followed by the country but it is an obligation made to God. Wearing Hijab doesn't mean that she can't practice her life less than other women in other countries. The Saudi women can [do] different jobs which are no longer controlled by men anymore, and now she can be anything she wants and reach to many powerful places (depending on her education).
The Saudi woman is no longer weak or ignorant. Day by day, she proved everyone wrong when they say the Saudi woman cannot be in higher positions.
There are many positive things in our society that supports and saves women's rights. For instance, for the equity in salaries, women and men in Saudi Arabia have the same amount of salary. Doctors, engineers, and teachers, both men and women, get the same amount of money, which is not supported in so many [cultures], including the advanced [ones].
There are many successful Saudi women who [have] achieved several goals [whether] in business, medicine, education, and even fashion, and reached internationalism while holding to her Islamic [beliefs]. The Saudi Women are so powerful because she not only wants to be successful, but [she] also wants to change the false stereotypes about her being oppressed.”
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