Deaths of 2 Saudi students in a heroic river rescue leaves KSA with sense of pride, heartbreak

Cousins Theeb Al-Yami, 27, and Jaser Al-Rakah, 25, died trying to rescue children from the Chicopee River.
Updated 07 July 2018
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Deaths of 2 Saudi students in a heroic river rescue leaves KSA with sense of pride, heartbreak

  • Al-Yami was an engineering student in his fourth year at Hartford University, while Al-Rakah enrolled in the University of New England last fall to study civil engineering
  • Several official figures took to social media platforms to express their grief at the loss of the students

JEDDAH: Grief and heroism are often inseparable — as is the case for a courageous Saudi college duo who drowned while trying to save two children fighting to stay afloat in the Chicopee River in Massachusetts.

Cousins Theeb Al-Yami, 27, and Jaser Al-Rakah, 25, were taking a road trip in the US last Friday when they found the frantic mother and rushed to the scene to help rescue her two children.

Other onlookers also tried to help, but strong currents prevented them from securing the children.

In a desperate bid to reach the pair, the two Saudi students leapt into the river, but were swept away. Both children were able to swim to shore.

A police search found one student’s body last Saturday. The body of the other student was retrieved on Monday. The two students’ names were released on Tuesday.

Al-Yami was an engineering student in his fourth year at Hartford University, while Al-Rakah enrolled in the University of New England last fall to study civil engineering.

Both were believed to be a month away from graduating.

Al-Yami’s brother Shabbab told the local newspaper Sabq that he spoke to his sibling only last week when he was in Makkah. “He asked me to pray for him and my cousin, as they were in the midst of working on their graduation projects. He also spoke to me about their plans for the future and their aspirations, but death was upon them,” Shabbab said.

The students’ families say they have been overwhelmed by the reaction and sympathy of other families, saying that it has helped ease their suffering and loss. They praised the work of Prince Khalid bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador in the US, to ensure the return of their sons’ bodies, which is expected on Saturday.

The tragic event has left the nation with a sense of pride — and heartbreak.

Several official figures took to social media platforms to express their grief at the loss of the students.

Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Education, Dr. Ahmed bin Mohammad Al-Issa, tweeted: “I offer my sincerest condolences to the scholarship students, Theeb Al-Yami and Jaser Al-Rakah, who drowned as a result of heroic act in the US.” 

The Saudi Arabia embassy in Washington tweeted: “The embassy ... is following up the incident of the deaths of students Jaser Al-Rakah and Theeb Al-Yami who drowned in Massachusetts. All necessary measures will be taken to determine the circumstances of the incident and the return of the bodies to the Kingdom. Our deepest condolences to those who are missed, may Allah grant them His mercy.”

The Saudi press has also highlighted the duo’s sacrifice, describing them as examples of heroism, and a source of pride for their families and country.

Jaser’s father, Daham, told MBC TV: “We received the news on Tuesday afternoon — we have been constantly in touch with them since they’ve left us three years ago. They’ve made us proud, they’ve made their tribe and country proud.”

He said the family had been consoled by encouraging words from Najran’s governor, the education minister, US universities and Americans who had reached out to pay their respects.

US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert commended their courage, saying: “The deaths of the two young men who bravely tried to save two children from drowning is a perfect example of international students from outside the US who enrich communities across the US. 

“Theeb and Jaser were among Saudi students studying in the US and have reflected a greater international understanding and diverse perspectives on campus and in American communities as well as in their own country.” 

Western New England University tweeted: “Jaser was an engineering student at Western New England University. As a campus community, our thoughts are with his family during this difficult time.”

Replying to Nauert’s letter, @JoySing64458036 said: “So sad. God bless their families. This act shows that we are all humans and that dividing people and sowing of separation is an evil act. These two students proved that, and we can never ever say thank you properly to them. So utterly sad for all of us.”

The universities where the two Saudi students studied issued letters of condolences. University of Hartford President Greg Woodward said: “It is with an extremely heavy heart that I write to tell you of a tragic loss. University of Hartford student Theeb Al-Yami passed away in an accidental drowning in Massachusetts on Friday. A contributing member of our vibrant community, he was attending UHart after earning sponsorship of his educational experience by the Cultural Mission of Saudi Arabia. We will mourn this terrible loss together.”

Western New England University, where Al-Rakah studied, said: “The entire Western New England University community joins with Jaser’s family and friends in mourning his tragic loss. By all accounts, he died coming to the aid of others. The university is working with the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission to support Jaser’s family during this difficult time.”

Locals flooded Twitter with messages of appreciation. @han3e3n said: “Proud of these heroes that’s how Saudis provide the help no matter what happens to them.”

@mshokl said: “Brave two Saudi students Theeb Al-Yami and Jaser Al-Rakah lost their lives helping drowning children. Rest in peace my friends. #RIPSaudisKidsRescuers #RIP #Heros #humanity.”


First charity art auction in Saudi Arabia hits SR4.8 million in sales

Updated 27 June 2019
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First charity art auction in Saudi Arabia hits SR4.8 million in sales

  • The event, which featured 43 works by Saudi and Arab artists, was held at historic Nassif House in Al-Balad, Jeddah
  • Tawaf around the Kaaba 2,” a painting by Saudi artist Abdullah Al-Shalty, fetched SR 650,000, the highest price paid for any single work in the auction

JEDDAH: Art for Al Balad, the first charity auction of contemporary art in the Kingdom, achieved sales of SR 4.8 million ($1.3 million) on Wednesday.

The event, which featured 43 works by Saudi and Arab artists, all of which sold, was held at historic Nassif House in Al-Balad, Jeddah, on Wednesday. It was organized by the Ministry of Culture in cooperation with auction house Christie’s.

“It was much above our expectations; we are very happy,” said Michael Jeha, chairman of Christie's Middle East.

About 200 Saudi art collectors joined artists and other members of the Saudi and international cultural communities at the event. Bidding was highly competitive, with “Tawaf around the Kaaba 2,” a painting by Saudi artist Abdullah Al-Shalty, fetching SR 650,000, the highest price paid for any single work in the auction.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Nassif House was built in 1872. Saudi Arabia’s founder, King Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud, was received at this house upon his entry to the city in 1925.

• The Saudi government is keen to restore and preserve buildings with historic and cultural significance, and carries out regular renovation work.

• Al-Balad, or Jeddah historic district, is one of five UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Kingdom. It contains about 600 buildings that date back to the 19th century.

 

“Where to” by Prince Badr bin Abdulmohsen was the second-most expensive work, selling for SR 500,000, while “Witness in the Desert” by Abdullah Al-Sahikh attracted a winning bid of SR 380,000.

“It was extremely pleasing, very encouraging,” said Jeha. “The energy in the room was fantastic. The enthusiasm was very strong. I think for the very first auction, we can all be extremely pleased.”

Jeha described the growth of the art scene and culture in general in Saudi Arabia as very impressive, and said that the Ministry of Culture has developed a strong platform and program for the coming years, which will help to establish art and culture in the hearts and minds of people in the Kingdom.

The profits from the auction will help to establish a new heritage museum in Jeddah’s historic district and support The Help Center, a non-profit organization that provides customized support to children in the city with special educational needs.

The auction received donations and funding from galleries, cultural foundations, private collectors, and artists across the Arab World, the assistance of which was acknowledged by the Ministry of Culture.

“This would not be possible without the generous support of both the donors and the talented artists,” said Hamed bin Mohammed Fayez, deputy minister of culture, in his opening speech.

The ministry aspires to create and develop a cultural environment in which artists and other creatives can access a platform that celebrates a shared identity and builds understanding between people.

Speaking of the Ministry’s three main objectives in its cultural vision for 2019, Fayez said that it aims to support the nation’s cultural transformation by promoting culture as a way of life, enable the sector to contribute to the economy, and encourage international cultural exchanges.

Before the auction, the works on sale were on display to the public in an exhibition on June 23 and 24.