TheFace: Alaa Bahri, Saudi Arabia’s first licensed ocularist

Alaa Bahri and her twins Cayan and Maleeka. (AN photo by Ziyad Alarfaj)
Updated 21 June 2019

TheFace: Alaa Bahri, Saudi Arabia’s first licensed ocularist

When I was young I did not know exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up, but I knew I wanted to do something special.

Eventually, I decided I wanted to be an ocularist, which is someone who makes and fits artificial eyes. This was a big challenge. There are no schools that teach this skill; usually it is passed down from one generation to the next, so you have to be a member of a family that is already in the business. I was not.

The other challenge I faced was convincing my family to allow me study this unusual subject, as they were concerned about the risks of pursuing a career in something so unfamiliar and uncommon.

I persisted, however, and contacted the Laisca family of ocularists in Barcelona, Spain, who agreed to teach me their techniques for making artificial eyes. My education did not end there, as I was keen to learn more, and as I searched for information I found the American Society of Ocularists. I registered with it and found a certified ocularist with whom I could train, while also attending courses and classes, to become an apprentice or an associate. I went to Houston, Texas, and trained with Soper Brothers, which is well-known name in the field. However, I struggled to obtain a visa after 9/11 and so I could not work full time as an apprentice or study full time at college.

Nevertheless, I was more interested and determined than ever to learn about making artificial eyes, and so I went to Paris to learn new methods from the company Dencott. Then I returned to Saudi Arabia to open my own practice. This was another difficulty, as it was not easy to get a license for a clinic because it was a new field in the Kingdom.

After four years I managed to open my clinic and became the first licensed ocularist in Saudi Arabia. My parents, especially my dad, helped me a lot with the business and my mom was always there for me when I had to go to a meeting or appointment and needed her to look after my twins, Cayan and Maleeka. My family supported me all the way and encouraged me to succeed in something that I love to do. They understood how happy this made me and how it would change the lives of a lot of people.

Cayan and Maleeka are my support system; it is not easy to work and raise kids but I will always encourage them to choose a career that they love and to be creative. Loving what you do is a blessing. I try to explain to my kids sometimes how important my job is and what it means to my patients. Sometimes it means that I might be busy or exhausted and not always around for them, but I am doing something I know is special — I am putting smiles on faces and changing lives.

I am now a member of the American Society of Ocularists and working to become the first board-certified ocularist in the Middle East but still have a few years to go before I earn that. 


TheFace: Noor Balfaqeeh, head of public relations at the Saudi National Center for Performance Measurement

Updated 2 min 20 sec ago

TheFace: Noor Balfaqeeh, head of public relations at the Saudi National Center for Performance Measurement

My upbringing influenced my choice of career and determined the things that I am passionate about. As a purpose-driven person, I find meaning in everything I do and turn it into the fuel that keeps me moving.

Born in Jeddah and raised in Madinah, I was the eldest child in the family home which put me at the forefront of responsibility. Looking after my siblings and helping my mother with chores, taught me how to depend on myself and care about others.

I grew up in a house close to the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah, which turned it into a motel-like destination, where we would receive friends and relatives from all over the world. I also remember that we used to free-up two rooms of the house every Hajj season to host pilgrims, and this awakened a sense of giving in me.

As a teenager, I helped my father in his work, mainly writing and publishing books. I also assisted him in his genealogy work, which is the study of families and tracing lineages.

Besides enjoying my time with the non-stop guests and playing with my sisters, school was the biggest joy of my life. When I did not come first in my class, I would be second.

In 1994, I graduated from high school as one of the top 10 students and would have gone to engineering college if it had been available for girls. Instead, I studied at King Abdul Aziz University from where I gained a bachelor’s degree in linguistics. I later obtained a master’s degree in translation from the University of Birmingham.

My husband is a great man. Ever since I left my parents’ house, he has been my partner, a great father to our children, my mentor and above all my soul mate. Together we have been on a quest to find a good life together and aid the development of each other.

I am a mother of four beautiful jewels; two of them are adults and are out of the nest studying abroad. The other two little girls are the joy of my life and we are enjoying life’s adventures together.

I am the head of public relations and communication at the National Center for Performance Measurement (Adaa). Joining Adaa in 2018 was an adventurous move and a life-changing decision. I had to move to Riyadh with my family after spending five years as head of communications and sustainable business at multi-national company Unilever, in Jeddah.

My career in public relations and communications started in 2007 at Effat University.

The qualities that were deeply embedded in me for helping and serving others came to good use when I became a certified consultant of Birkman psychometric assessment.

WildFit Arabia is another project that I am working on with two of my dear friends. The program is a unique nutritional and lifestyle challenge that helps people to maintain a healthy weight and lead a healthy lifestyle.

I am also translating a book by a scientist and scholar who changed my life when I attended many of his workshops.

My journey of self-exploration started in 2011 and paved the way for many positive changes in my life on professional, personal, social and spiritual levels. I am a resilient person who is filled with peace and love for everyone and everything.

My biggest achievement was to holistically stabilize myself emotionally, socially and professionally, something which allowed me to become better in all aspects of my life.

Every morning I meditate and remind myself, “I am full of hope and gratitude, I am determined to give and serve, I am full of confidence that I am better in every role I play in this life.”

The motto I stand by is: Every day and in every way, I am getting better and better. So, I know that even the sky is not my limit and with good intention I will continue positively impacting the lives of whoever crosses my path. • AN photo by Ziyad Alarfaj