Al-Mansour: It’s an exciting time in Saudi Arabia now

Updated 24 April 2013
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Al-Mansour: It’s an exciting time in Saudi Arabia now

NEW YORK: Haifaa Al-Mansour had to go to great lengths to make the groundbreaking Saudi film “Wadjda” — and not only because it is the first feature made entirely in Saudi Arabia and the first directed by a Saudi woman.
Because of regulations about public mingling, she had to direct outdoor scenes via a walkie-talkie, watching on a monitor from a parked van.
“It made me work harder,” she said at a discussion following the film’s North American premiere Sunday evening at the Tribeca Film Festival, saying that she instead rehearsed longer with the actors.
Feminist icon Gloria Steinem and Women for Women International founder Zainab Salbi joined Al-Mansour, after the film for a discussion that spoke both to the global struggle of women’s rights, and the regional differences.
“I hope we’re beginning to realize just as we, as human beings, are linked not ranked, in a deep sense, revolutions are linked not ranked,” said Steinem.
“Wadjda,” which earlier premiered at the Venice Film Festival and will be released this fall by Sony Pictures Classics, is about an independent-minded 10-year-old girl (Waad Mohammed) and her mother (Reem Abdullah) struggle through. It’s a subtle, largely optimistic film in which the girl, Wadjda, strives to simply own a bicycle.
Al-Mansour, who made the movie with the permission of the Saudi government, also struck a positive tone Sunday.
“It’s an exciting time in the country now,” said Al-Mansour. “They’re empowering women and they are giving more chances. Girls can ride bicycles now.”
Earlier this month, women were allowed to ride bikes, although only in restricted recreational areas. In 2011, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah granted women the right to vote and run for office beginning in 2015.
“Wadjda” isn’t brazen, Salbi, an Iraqi humanitarian who’s working on a documentary about women and the Arab Spring said, but “is beautifully pushing the envelope.”
“Wadjda” is expected to air on Saudi television and be released on DVD. Al-Mansour summarized her film not in political terms, but instead called it a movie “about hope, embracing change and moving ahead.”


Grandma Stories: Saudi storyteller teaches values and critical thinking by letting children speak up

Updated 22 April 2018
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Grandma Stories: Saudi storyteller teaches values and critical thinking by letting children speak up

  • Storytelling is not only a fun way to ignite imaginations; it also improves children’s verbal and critical thinking abilities, says Yamani
  • Yamani has read stories in both Arabic and English for more than 6,000 children of 15 nationalities all over the Kingdom and the Gulf region

DHAHRAN: You can see children forming a gigantic circle and listening carefully when story time starts. Ghadeer Yamani, the founder of Grandma Stories, found her passion for spreading the love of reading among children and delivering values through her storytelling sessions.
The Grandma Stories initiative started six years ago when Yamani returned home after spending years abroad owing to her husband’s work. Yamani has read stories in both Arabic and English for more than 6,000 children of 15 nationalities all over the Kingdom and the Gulf region, including the UAE and Bahrain.
“The idea of Grandma Stories was not an epiphany; it came to me after I saw how reading was a huge part of children’s life abroad. I used to see children reading in libraries, in bus stops, in hospitals — everywhere. I wanted to help spread reading culture in my society.
“I wanted children back home to love reading! And with the support of my husband and family, I think I was able to do this,” Yamani told Arab News.
With the prevalence of national reading competitions, school contests and reading clubs, awareness among families and society members is growing. “The interaction and excitement of families and children are amazing when it comes to story time,” said Yamani.
About the title of her initiative, she said: “When I was a child I used to visit my father’s grandmother in Madinah who had a phenomenal way of telling stories and riddles. I still remember how the entire family would get around her as she started telling her tales, and in an atmosphere filled with love and contentment.
“No one ever wanted her stories to finish and nothing could ever distract us while listening to her. That is exactly how I want children to feel in Grandma Stories story time.”
Storytelling is not only a fun way to ignite imaginations; it also improves children’s verbal and critical thinking abilities. Yamani allows children to criticize the stories by pointing out the strengths and weaknesses of each one. The advancement in such skills is what inspires Yamani and keeps her going.
“The fondest moments throughout my years in storytelling have been when mothers come and tell me how their children used to be shy and reluctant but have started to become fluent and can express themselves well, and that Grandma Stories is the reason for this great progress.”