TheFace: Somaya Badr, founder and GM of Saudi Arabia’s Art of Heritage group

Somaya Badr (center) at her house with her husband and daughter. (AN photo by Ziyad Alarfaj)
Updated 26 July 2019

TheFace: Somaya Badr, founder and GM of Saudi Arabia’s Art of Heritage group

  • Art of Heritage trains disabled Saudi women as handicraft artisans
  • It succeeded the Heritage Center of the Al Nahda Philanthropic Society

I grew up in a family of academics and scientists. My father and mother are university professors in hydrology and analytical chemistry respectively, and my siblings all come from scientific backgrounds. I was the odd one out with my passion for culture, society and art, and ended up studying economics and political science.

While I did not share the specific interests of my family, I learned from them the love of hard work and constant self-improvement, as well as a passion to excel and innovate in my specialization. When I started to work, I was lucky to be able to engage in the field that was closest to my heart: Culture and handicrafts.

After years of experience in both for-profit and nonprofit institutions, I was able to establish and direct Art of Heritage (AOH), which replaced Al-Nahda Heritage Center as the public marketing and retail arm of Saudi Arabia’s oldest women’s philanthropic organization when the charity shifted its focus to core educational values and women’s issues.

I realized that not only could I educate future generations about their heritage, but that I could also support marginalized groups to transform from being totally dependent to being confident and productive members of society.

My passion for using cultural heritage to improve the lives of marginalized women, and my belief in the importance of conservation, are linked to my strong belief in the need for further advanced study and inquiry in the cultural field.

 

AOH trains disabled Saudi women as handicraft artisans, enabling them to acquire unique and valuable skills and become independent. Every day when I see these girls overcoming their challenges to produce high-quality work, my hope is renewed and my motivation is strengthened to give my absolute best.

I have always believed in the importance of having a purpose and a career, and in continuing to broaden my horizons and knowledge. I have proudly raised my children to value these principles, and to be independent and open to different cultures. My husband has strongly supported me and our children and encouraged me to work, travel and continue my education.

My daughter just graduated from medical school, and my son is studying in the US. I taught my children the importance of working in a field they love, because this is what will enable them to innovate and excel.

From the scale of my small family to the scale of the country as a whole, I strongly believe that we have to learn how to listen to young people and support their out-of-the-box thinking in creating their future. Doing this will instil the capacity in each member of society to be an ambassador for their country through their confidence in their heritage and their engagement with the wider world.

I have brought these same principles to my work at AOH. For example, AOH cooperates with well-known international fashion designers in order to create a fashion line inspired by traditional Saudi dress. Furthermore, we are working to conserve and share the rich Saudi material cultural heritage by establishing an extensive collection of artifacts, jewelry and clothing.

There is an enthusiasm in Saudi Arabia for progressive thinking, and for meeting the challenges and opportunities of globalization with a modern and authentic self.

 

Recently, we have been able to bring our work to both local and international audiences through collaborative exhibitions such as “Hajj: Journey to the Heart of Islam” with the British Museum, “Design Crossroads: Jewelry from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia” with the Bahrain National Museum, and “Hidden Treasures: Jewelry from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia” with L’Ecole Van Cleef and Arpels in Dubai’s Design District.

My passion for using cultural heritage to improve the lives of marginalized women, and my belief in the importance of conservation, are linked to my strong belief in the need for further advanced study and inquiry in the cultural field. To that end, I have personally worked with the School of Oriental and African Studies in London to organize a two-year pre-Ph.D. program on Saudi tribal embroidery and dress patterns.

I am very optimistic about the Kingdom’s future, and I believe that what is to come will only be better and better. There is an enthusiasm in Saudi Arabia for progressive thinking, and for meeting the challenges and opportunities of globalization with a modern and authentic self. Not only are we challenging outside stereotypes about our culture and region, but women and youth truly have more of a voice, and have been invited to participate in all areas of life.

With the Vision 2030 reform plan supported by increased opportunities for women, and with a newly established Ministry of Culture, new groups will be able to understand their cultural heritage and participate in enriching it. Through the values I have instilled within my family and the ones I demonstrate in my professional life, I hope to continue to support this hopeful vision for our shared future. 


185 disabled Saudi children ready for new academic year

Updated 12 min 13 sec ago

185 disabled Saudi children ready for new academic year

RIYADH:  Saudi Arabia’s Disabled Children’s Association (DCA) finished its preparations for the new academic year with the completion of its educational programs aimed at developing children’s mental, cognitive and motor skills.

The DCA’s centers are getting ready to welcome around 185 new students, who will be enrolled in the preparatory and elementary stages. The association is also housing early intervention children in 11 centers throughout the Kingdom.

“The DCA’s centers finished their preparations early in line with the directives of Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abdul Aziz, chairman of the association’s board of directors,” said Awadh Al-Ghamdi, the DCA’s secretary-general.

He added: “The association is keeping pace with new technologies by developing the educational care system every year. It continuously adopts new methods for children with special needs by providing the centers with what is necessary for the development of linguistic, social and psychological skills.

“The DCA held consultative meetings to approve an implementation mechanism by consulting experts from the educational committee at King Saud University about the importance of establishing an innovative resources room in all of the DCA centers.

Al-Ghamdi said: “The project will be implemented in cooperation with the Ministry of Education after it is judged by specialists from Saudi universities and adopted as part of the association’s initiatives. This comes as a continuation of the DCA’s role in caring for children with special needs for more than 35 years.”

The director of the DCA’s center in Al-Rass governorate presented the project’s original idea, which included reviewing the centers’ educational care programs according to modern educational trends.

A working group, which included a number of specialists, was assigned to the investigation. It presented a final vision to the DCA’s secretariat with a guide to the project’s implementation.