American visitors get a taste of Saudi culture

American visitors get a taste of Saudi culture
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American visitors get a taste of Saudi culture
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BREAKING DOWN CULTURAL BARRIER: Visitors try on Saudi clothes, while a student, below, applies henna to a visitor.
Updated 17 May 2016

American visitors get a taste of Saudi culture

American visitors get a taste of Saudi culture

WASHINGTON: One day each year the Washington diplomatic community hosts “Passport D.C.: Around the World Embassy Tour,” a hugely popular event where the public is welcomed into selected embassies to celebrate the world’s cultural diversity.

Recently more than 70 embassies from Africa, Asia, Oceania, the Middle East, and the Americas opened their doors to hundreds of visitors to showcase their national cuisine, art, music, dance and fashion.
Because people are especially curious about the Kingdom, the Saudi Embassy consistently draws the largest crowds during this annual affair. This year, staff at the embassy offered visitors Saudi dance performances, samples of its coffee and dates, henna-painting demonstrations, and Arabic versions of a guest’s name rendered into frame-worthy calligraphy.
Visitors to the Saudi Embassy were also enlightened by a brief, broadcast-quality video that described the history, culture, and state-of-the-art infrastructure of the Kingdom.
Dozens of Saudi students attending colleges and university in the Washington area volunteered at the day-long event to answer questions from visitors. Saudi students were available to educate and inform visitors at each of the food and other stations.
Guests and the Saudi student “volunteer diplomats” agreed that the opportunity to explore, interact and share knowledge was rewarding. “It’s an amazing day. It’s so wonderful to see people learn about our culture,” said Turki Al-Abdullatif, an accounting student at the University of the District of Columbia. He said visitors ate dates, drank Saudi coffee, and tried on traditional Saudi clothing.
Al-Abdullatif said the embassy “open house” offered guests a chance to ask questions that they might have always thought about, such as whether he only wears a thobe when he goes out. His answer: “I wear it all the time, it’s part of me.”
Haifa Al-Shogiran, an international business major at Marymount University, said that many visitors had questions after watching the video documentary. “They were surprised to see snow in Tabuk,” she said. “They enjoyed learning about the pilgrimage, but some people were confused about Makkah and Madinah both being part of the pilgrims’ requirement for the Haj ... So, I think that they were glad that I was there to talk to them and explain it.”
Sara Abdullkarim, who majors in occupational therapy at Marymount University, said that her encounters with the embassy guests had a “tremendously positive impact” on her. “I’m really happy that people are open and interested to know about the things they see here, such as the mosques, our culture, the dancers and our flag,” she told Arab News.
“They were really happy when we wrote out their names in Arabic; many people didn’t know that we wrote from right to left. People were excited to wear Saudi clothes and pose for photographs in the Bedouin tent ... And they really loved our coffee and dates.
“The media has a certain perception of us,” Abdullkarim added, “but the visitors here were really open and interested in us — which made me really happy.”
Shams Al-Saby, who just received her master’s degree in public administration from the University of Baltimore, said: “Most of the visitors wanted more information about Makkah, and they didn’t know anything about it, or our alphabet ... So this was an amazing opportunity to share our culture with them.”
Even the shemagh, or Saudi male headscarf, was a subject of frequent questions. “Not only did they ask about the shemagh, but they also wanted to know why the checks on it were red,” said Saud Al-Saleh, an electronic engineering major at George Mason University. “I like being able to change their stereotypes of us. I don’t like politics, but I’ve heard some hurtful comments since the start of the Republican presidential campaign, specifically Donald Trump’s comments about Muslims. So this was a good chance to change their stereotypes of us.”
Haifa Al-Shogiran added: “Yes, many of the visitors commented that they didn’t think we would be so friendly. They seemed surprised and pleased.”
Many of the visitors to the embassy spoke of how impressed they were with the food and photographs of Saudi landmarks on display, and that their encounters with the Saudi students made a deep impression.
One American, who identified himself as Joe, typified this point of view: “It’s great to have Saudi students here; they’re very open to answering our questions ... In the future, when we hear about Saudi Arabia in the news, we’ll balance what we hear with our good experiences here. It’s really a good thing to be open, and have folks who can talk to us frankly about what is going on in their country.”


Arab coalition destroys 10 Houthi drones targeting civilians

Arab coalition destroys 10 Houthi drones targeting civilians
Updated 38 min 56 sec ago

Arab coalition destroys 10 Houthi drones targeting civilians

Arab coalition destroys 10 Houthi drones targeting civilians
  • Attacks spark calls for action against the Iran-backed militias

RIYADH: The Arab-led coalition fighting in Yemen has intercepted a total of 10 explosive-laden drones targeting civilians on Sunday, according to Al Arabiya TV.

The bloc said earlier that it has destroyed five armed drones and that it was closely following a number of other drones, the television channel reported. It then said it has intercepted five more drones that were fired towards Saudi Arabia. 

The coalition reaffirmed that it continues to work to protect civilians in accordance with international law. 

“We take operational measures to protect civilians and civilian objects in accordance with international humanitarian law,” the statement said. 

The Arab coalition early Saturday said that it intercepted seven Houthi drones launched towards southwest Saudi Arabia towards Khamis Mushait and one fired towards Jazan, in the past 24 hours.

The attacks sparked calls for action against the Iran-backed militias. 

The United States and the United Nations have stepped up diplomatic efforts to end the conflict, which is largely seen in the region as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

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Saudi nonprofit provides underprivileged families with 1,000 meals a day

Saudi nonprofit provides underprivileged families with 1,000 meals a day
The initiative, which kicked off on Feb. 14, was planned to run for 30 days, but could be extended. (Supplied)
Updated 34 sec ago

Saudi nonprofit provides underprivileged families with 1,000 meals a day

Saudi nonprofit provides underprivileged families with 1,000 meals a day
  • ‘We intend to do whatever we can to ensure the distribution of food to those in need during pandemic’

RIYADH: A Riyadh charity is distributing 1,000 meals a day to underprivileged families who have been badly affected by the ongoing coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

Founded by Riyadh’s governor, Prince Faisal bin Bandar bin Abdul Aziz, the Khairat program helps ensure that low-income families in the Kingdom’s capital have access to two full, healthy, and balanced meals a day, taking care of not only the cooking process, but also the distribution to those in need.
Abdullah Al-Sebai, the general supervisor of Khairat, told Arab News that the program was initially established in 2018 as a means of collecting leftover food from banquet halls, weddings, and other major events where a surplus tends to be left.


“Our team would collect the leftover food from these events, package it up neatly, and distribute it to families in need,” he said.
However, once the pandemic shut down those large-scale gatherings, the team at Khairat quickly found a solution that would ensure those families would not be left in the lurch.


“With the green light from Prince Faisal, we established a professional relationship with a kitchen belonging to the charity Al-Melwan, who have employed seven Saudi women to cook the necessary meals for distribution,” Al-Sebai added. “Khairat purchased the meals from them and is responsible for the delivery on a daily basis.”
Once the food has been prepared by the team at Al-Melwan’s kitchen, Al-Sebai said that the meals go out twice a day — 500 lunches and 500 dinners, all delivered within half an hour to the families that the charity has had longstanding dealings with.
The initiative, which kicked off on Feb. 14, was planned to run for 30 days, but could be extended.
“We intend to do whatever we can to ensure that these families aren’t in any danger due to the pandemic,” he said.
To maintain their services alongside Al-Melwan’s, the charity also coordinated with a number of restaurants to provide meals, and private entities that have also contributed to their food distribution. Over 27,000 meals were distributed to around 4,500 families in 13 neighborhoods across Riyadh between Feb. 12-28 as a result.
Khairat is accepting donations, both in the form of monetary contributions, and applications from donors such as banquet halls, hotels, and other event-hosting venues, on their website, https://khiyrat.org.sa/en/.

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Saudis ‘excited, relieved’ as public venues set to reopen

Saudis ‘excited, relieved’ as public venues set to reopen
The Ministry of Interior allows indoor dining in restaurants and cafes along with other recreational activities. However, all events and parties will continue to be suspended until further notice. (Shutterstock)
Updated 07 March 2021

Saudis ‘excited, relieved’ as public venues set to reopen

Saudis ‘excited, relieved’ as public venues set to reopen
  • ‘We must be careful in public places so that we enjoy dining experiences again at restaurants and more’

JEDDAH: After enduring a month of tightened restrictions in the wake of a rise in coronavirus cases earlier this year, Saudis are elated at the prospect of their favorite restaurants, cafes and cinemas reopening on Sunday.
Residents told Arab News of their experiences during the 30-day period and what they are most looking forward to on Sunday.
Asia Khalil, 33, breathed a sigh of relief when she heard that her six-year-old twins will finally be able to spend time at an indoor amusement park, saying that she ran out of ideas to keep her active children occupied.
She told Arab News: “Their father and I tried everything imaginable. It’s a little more difficult this time around because they’re restless, and with school starting late in the day, they need something to tire them out before bedtime and going out wasn’t an option for us.
“We’ll be even more careful than ever before this time around,” she added.

HIGHLIGHT

The Kingdom suspended recreational events on Feb. 3 to halt the spread of COVID-19. The suspension was extended on Feb. 14 for 20 days.

Omar Yasseen, a 27-year-old barista at Brew92, said he was “very excited” to welcome customers back and see his cafe return to life.
“Though it was necessary, the ban did affect us negatively. Time went by slowly,” he told Arab News. “I’m excited to see customers walking in again, staying and lighting up the place.”
Yasseen hopes that people are more careful about following precautionary measures after reopening so that everyone can continue to enjoy public places.
“We must be careful in public places so that we enjoy dining experiences again at restaurants and more.”

The decision to take extra measures to control the spread of coronavirus also affected those with active and social lifestyles, including 26-year-old electrical engineer Ahmed Basfar.
“It had a drastic impact on my daily life since I’m a very outdoor kind of person. I’m used to going to the gym at least four days a week and meeting up with friends at a local coffee shop,” he told Arab News.
“Initially, I was thinking that I can stay at home with my family for a good 10 days and can have quality time with them, but then when I knew that the period was extended for 20 more days, I started to panic.
“I thought I was going to lose all of the progress I made during the past six months in those 30 days. So I went ahead and bought a whole lot of home fitness equipment.”
Basfar ordered a treadmill, aerobic step platform, sports mat, dumbbells, a jump rope and other equipment to stay active at home.
The news that leisure facilities would reopen has excited Basfar, who said that he “cannot wait” to get back into the gym. However, he also praised the benefits of working out at home.
“Although working out at home is not ideal for me since I need to use heavy machines to keep from gaining weight, it has kept me fit until gyms reopens again,” he said.
Nada Jannadi, a 32-year-old psychology counselor, said she faced a challenging time during the 30-day period.
“I’m not so flexible when it comes to my daily routine. So I had to make some changes with my time and find a way to exercise at home,” she told Arab News.
“When they said it’s going to be 10 days with the possibility of an extension, I was telling myself to be patient and that it’s only 10 days. I soon realized that the 10 days were extended so I decided to buy my own equipment and redecorated my apartment to have a small corner designated for my new gear. Some days I get bored from working out at home so I go out for a 60-minute walk in the neighborhood.”
Both Jannadi and Basfar agreed that, although the last month has been a tough period, they will take extra precautions when they return to the gym, and will make sure to follow health and safety protocols.
“We have to be careful, because it’s our health and the people we love before it’s governmental. The government cares about us so we have to do what they are asking us to do. We survived this before and we are going to survive this, too,” Jannadi said.

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Who’s Who: Dr. Yasser Al-Aska, director general of the Saudi Patient Safety Center

Who’s Who: Dr. Yasser Al-Aska, director general of the Saudi Patient Safety Center
Updated 06 March 2021

Who’s Who: Dr. Yasser Al-Aska, director general of the Saudi Patient Safety Center

Who’s Who: Dr. Yasser Al-Aska, director general of the Saudi Patient Safety Center

Dr. Yasser Al-Aska has been director general of the Saudi Patient Safety Center (SPSC) since February. The center aims to raise awareness of patient safety and strengthen and improve the culture of best practices in patient safety in all health institutions throughout the Kingdom.

It also conducts research to improve the quality of health facilities, especially with regard to patient safety.
Al-Aska received a bachelor’s degree in medicine from King Saud University (KSU) in 2006. He also obtained an Arab Board of Emergency Medicine certification from the Arab Board of Health Specializations in 2012.
That year, he was also granted the same certification from the Saudi Commission of Health Specialties. From 2017 to 2020, he directed KSU’s Clinical Skills and Simulation Center (KSU-CSSC).
Al-Aska, who has been an emergency medicine assistant professor at KSU since 2016, was also deputy director of KSU-CSSC from 2016 to 2017. Al-Aska also worked as director of the residency training program and postgraduate studies at KSU’s department of emergency medicine.
From 2010 to 2011, he was chief resident at the Saudi Board of Emergency Medicine program, a substantial residency-training program and the largest emergency program in the region.
From 2007 to 2012, he worked as an emergency medicine resident at King Khalid University. For nearly one year beginning in 2013, he served as a fellow at the Lifespan Medical Simulation Center, Rhode Island, US.
From 2013 to 2015, he worked as a teaching fellow of disaster medicine and emergency preparedness at Brown University.
As an academic, Al-Aska’s research and studies focus mainly on current issues in emergency medicine, disaster preparedness and medical simulation. He is dedicated to the improvement of emergency care experience and medical education within his country and beyond.


Saudi Arabia reforms for women boost economic growth

Saudi Arabia reforms for women boost economic growth
Issam Abousleiman, World Bank regional director of the GCC countries. (Supplied)
Updated 06 March 2021

Saudi Arabia reforms for women boost economic growth

Saudi Arabia reforms for women boost economic growth
  • Abousleiman said the Kingdom is well on its way to achieving its goals and that new reforms usually take between 3-5 years to have a full impact

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia has implemented a number of ambitious reforms to enhance women’s economic inclusion, which has resulted in women gaining more access to education and employment options.
According to a Global Entrepreneurship Monitor report in 2020, the highest rates of women’s entrepreneurial intentions were reported in the Middle East and North Africa region at 36.6 percent as Saudi female entrepreneurs were responsible for driving this trend.
Issam Abousleiman, the World Bank regional director of the GCC countries, told Arab News that women have played a fundamental role in boosting economic growth in the Kingdom.
“Saudi Arabia has made a lot of reforms related to the business environment, along with those laws that are measured by the Women, Business and the Law (WBL) index that we have,” he said, adding that these laws have increased the number of women entrepreneurs in the Kingdom.
Abousleiman said the number of Saudi women entrepreneurs increased by 50 percent between 2018 and 2019, particularly in the consumer service sector.
The World Bank’s annual WBL report also stated that Saudi Arabia made significant progress, scoring 80 out of 100.
Reforms in the Kingdom have provided funding to projects and initiatives, which have created opportunities for women in government and the private sector. These reforms have played an integral part in creating safe work environments to foster growth and innovation.
“These new businesses are generating new jobs and providing livelihoods for many in Saudi Arabia,” Abousleiman said.

Reforms usually take time to get to that potential. With patience, perseverance and staying on course, these reforms will benefit society and the economy over time.

Issam Abousleiman, World Bank regional director of the GCC countries

“They are giving women a platform for entrepreneurship, leadership and self-realization that we have not seen in the past. They are also helping drive diversification in the Saudi economy.”
Abousleiman said the Kingdom is well on its way to achieving its goals and that new reforms usually take between 3-5 years to have a full impact. According to Saudi employment figures, women have outpaced men over the past few quarters, which is “well above the target set by Saudi Arabia’s 2030 Vision.”
He added that the Saudi government’s gender-neutral policies have encouraged more women to participate in economic activities with various strategies and action plans. Employment policies, cash benefits for the most vulnerable, support for the disabled, and pensions are among the programs that have benefited most from more female inclusion.
“Women’s participation in the labor force in Saudi Arabia started with very low numbers,” Abousleiman said. “If we go back to 2017, women’s participation in the labor force was at 15 percent. By the end of 2020, we estimate that it has gone up to almost 31 percent.”
He added that the new strategies and plans implemented have targeted some of the most vulnerable members of society and provided more productivity within the system.
“Reforms usually take time to get to that potential,” Abousleiman said. “With patience, perseverance and staying on course, these reforms will benefit society and the economy over time.”