Today is the day my high-school dream becomes reality

Today is the day my high-school dream becomes reality

Back in 1994, when I was editor in chief of the “Jeddah Girls Gazette” during my high school years, I wrote an article entitled “Can dreams be true?” It was all about things I dared to dream of in Saudi Arabia, like cruising in my car on Tahlia Street, or going to Al-Ittihad and Al-Ahli football matches, and having equal opportunities to work as a woman in whatever field I desired.  

All these things seemed impossible at the time, and I felt they could never happen during my lifetime as extremist views tried to control the thriving young generation.

When I graduated from high school, my father and uncle sent me to study with my cousins at the University of New Mexico, majoring in political science, and later communications as there were no job opportunities whatsoever then for women in politics. 

In 2000, I received my BA from George Mason University, and joined Lambda Pi Eta, the National Communication Association’s official honor society.

Eventually, I returned home, and got married. Dealing with new motherhood challenges, I needed a counterbalance to the postpartum depression that hit me after the birth of my first child. 

Having been captain of my high-school basketball team, I was inspired to launch a new team of young Saudi graduates.

 

It’s not a train that we have to catch, but rather a futuristic hyperloop tube ride that we should strive to enjoy.

Lina Almaeena

 

I called up my former teammates and went back to my favorite sport, the most ecstatic alternative to any negative emotion. Throughout those years I was able to pursue my master’s in psychology. 

Three years later, my husband and I started a social entrepreneurship initiative, Jeddah United, with the aim of promoting sports for girls and boys. It was followed by Al Khobar United in 2010 and Riyadh United in 2011, in partnership with relatives in these cities. We believed in the power of sports to build a strong generation of productive citizens, and investing our time and energy in positive measures for a better quality of life for women and young people. 

Women in sports was a taboo at the time. Some labeled it un-Islamic, others thought it was trivial. However, we believed strongly in what we were doing, and we continued to train tens of thousands of women and youth for over a decade.

On April 25, 2016, Saudi Vision 2030 was announced, with one of its main objectives to empower women and youth. Jeddah United’s vision to promote the sports and health industry went hand in hand with the national objective to increase physical activity.

That same year, on Dec. 2, I was appointed to the Shoura Council, bringing its female representation to 20 percent. It is the highest honor to continue living by the principles I was brought up with, in the spirit of “what we can do for our country.” It is a great trust that I will strive to live up to through endless work and dedication. 

Today, Saudi women can drive, work in any field they desire, practice any sport they choose, and attend almost any venue, with laws that guarantee our equal opportunity in economic and social development and citizenship equality; the latest example is the new anti-harassment law, which will actually protect all of society.

Saudi Arabia is transforming fast. As I drive my car today, I realize that my dreams in that high-school article have become reality. 

Yes, we have a long way to go and we are not immune to mistakes, but we must all work hard to achieve prosperity for our nation.

It’s not a train that we have to catch, but rather a futuristic hyperloop tube ride that we should strive to enjoy.

• Lina Almaeena is the cofounder and director of Jeddah United Sports Co., the first Saudi private sports company to promote the culture of sports in the Kingdom.

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