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. 


Resumption of international flights draws mixed expat reaction

Expatriate community in Saudi Arabia are waiting impatiently for this good news of flights to resume. (SPA)
Updated 24 min 42 sec ago

Resumption of international flights draws mixed expat reaction

  • International flights to and from the Kingdom were suspended on March

RIYADH: The decision to allow international travel to and from the Kingdom has evoked mixed reactions in the expatriate community.

The decision by Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Interior to allow expatriates who have exit and entry visas as well as visit visas to travel across borders on Sept. 13 came as a relief for many expats who are used to vacationing in their home countries.

Although many are excited about the news as their wait to visit relatives and friends has come to an end, there are others who are opting to stay in the Kingdom, fearful of the return of restrictions — as well as of coronavirus infection in their own countries.

Faiz Al-Najdi, a Pakistani expatriate working as a consultant on a project with the Royal Commission at Yanbu, told Arab News: “It’s a sigh of relief, especially for the expatriates that international flights have been resumed by the Saudi government with certain conditions.”

“The expatriate workers and their families have been waiting impatiently for this good news of flights to resume since they were shut down six months ago,” he said.

International flights to and from the Kingdom were suspended on March 15 as part of preventative measures to stop the spread of COVID-19, but as the situation has improved countries around the world are beginning to open up. Saudi Arabia has also reviewed its coronavirus travel policies, resuming international flights with conditions.

Al-Najdi said: “As I see it there are people with varied opinions. There are families who want to fly back home and are happy to reunite with their relatives and friends; so are those who were stranded in their home countries and were not able to return to the Kingdom. This includes those expatriate workers who wanted to return and rejoin their jobs here.”

However, there are some who were skeptical, he said. “Although they can fly home they want to stay put here as they feel far safer compared to being in their respective countries due to COVID-19 getting out of control back home.”

“In my opinion it’s a good and commendable step by the Saudi government and I welcome this decision,” he said.

Akhtarul Islam Siddiqui, an Indian expatriate in Riyadh, told Arab News: “Even though I love my home country India, as a Kingdom-lover too I prefer to stay with my family here in this pandemic situation. I am more worried for my two daughters who are stranded in India, where the number of cases are among the highest worldwide.”

Rafiul Akhter, an Indian expat who is a finance professional working with the Advanced Electronics Co. Ltd, Riyadh, said: “Living away from family, friends and home country is often the hardest part of being an expatriate. News of the resumption of international flight from Saudi Arabia is a ray of hope to boost my energy levels.”

“The Saudi government handled this pandemic so promptly. I’m blessed to be safe in Saudi Arabia, but on the other hand I am worried about my motherland where my family is facing this pandemic all alone and feeling so helpless that I could not be there to support them,” he said.

“Now that I can travel to my loved ones, there are a few facts that have got muddled in all of the enthusiasm about the conditions of returning to Saudi Arabia that require some clearing up. I hope that in the coming days the confusion is cleared and we, the expats, can plan a stress-free trip to our loved ones,” he said.

Since schools resumed virtual classes after the summer break, many expats have opted to stay for the sake of their children’s schooling and will not travel at least till the winter break. However, it is a good news for those whose family is back in their home country.

Dr. Kifaya Ifthikar, a Sri Lankan doctor in Riyadh, told Arab News: “We are ecstatic to see our fellow Sri Lankan expats returning to our motherland safe and sound.”

“COVID-19 took from us many things that are irreplaceable, but it also gave us the opportunity to realize the little things in life, like being close to family. I am glad that soon they will all be together with their loved ones,” she said.