Meet the Saudi tour guides bringing Diriyah’s past to life

Tour guide Manal Al-Qahtani. (Supplied)
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Tour guide Manal Al-Qahtani. (Supplied)
Mohammed Ahmed Al-Salem, a senior tour guide originally from Diriyah. (Supplied)
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Mohammed Ahmed Al-Salem, a senior tour guide originally from Diriyah. (Supplied)
Diriyah tour guide Najla Aldrees. (Supplied)
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Diriyah tour guide Najla Aldrees. (Supplied)
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Updated 22 September 2021

Meet the Saudi tour guides bringing Diriyah’s past to life

Meet the Saudi tour guides bringing Diriyah’s past to life
  • ‘Diriyah means history, the beginning of the Kingdom. But it is also about the future, learning and Vision 2030,’ says Manal Al-Qahtani

RIYADH: Lined up in front of the historic Salwa palace, 28 young Saudi tour guides stand ready to tell the story of their ancestors’ courageous fight against the Ottoman invaders, a valiant struggle that laid the groundwork for today’s Kingdom.

“I would like to showcase the determination and persistence of the people of Diriyah,” Mohammed Ahmed Al-Salem said, pointing to the ancient walls of the palace with pride.

The Diriyah guides say they are not only offering tours of the historic site, but are also keeping the stories of their ancestors alive.

“I don’t feel that I am only a tour guide or senior tourist guide, I am actually representing my country and its history,” senior tour guide Manal Al-Qahtani told Arab News.

“I am an ambassador here in Diriyah, serving my country.”

Surprisingly, Al-Qahtani never saw herself working as a tour guide, but during training she quickly fell in love with the role and the sector. After spending more than two years completing courses in hospitality, history and tourism, she is now one of Diriyah’s most experienced tour guides and is proud to represent her country.

The tour guides of Turaif explain the Kingdom’s history, ranging from the early Al-Saud settlement in 1446 to the dramatic siege and destruction of Diriyah in 1818.

The past speaks through these young and passionate guides, who not only provide tours of the historic site, but also tell the stories of their ancestors. These include tales of bravery and integrity such as the six-month resistance led by Imam Abdullah, the last ruler of the first Saudi state from 1814 to 1818.

Mohammed Ahmed Al-Salem, a senior tour guide originally from Diriyah, said that he is proud to be working in the place of his ancestors.

“I feel like I have a huge role here. Working in our hometown is something that makes you feel proud.”

The tour guides embody the Kingdom’s history and heritage, preserving the stories of Saudi Arabia and ensuring the country’s history will never die.

“It’s amazing to be able to explain your own history to your people and also to tourists. I think there is a lot to tell about Saudi Arabia,” Al-Salem said.

The guides complete an intensive training program on the Kingdom’s history, archaeology and hospitality to prepare for their role.

FASTFACT

Diriyah tours are conducted in Arabic, English, French, Spanish, Korean, Urdu and sign language

Training can last months or even years, but every tour guide is eager to learn even after they finish courses supplied by the Diriyah Gate ‍Development Authority.

Tour guides fill notebooks with information from training sessions as they are taught about the Kingdom's origins. Facts and figures are also memorized to be recited as they highlight key events in the nation's past.

The guides aim to make access to the Kingdom's history as inclusive as possible, with many learning languages to ensure they can convey the history to multiple nationalities.

Tours are conducted in English, Arabic, Korean, Spanish, Urdu and Italian.

“We have even started a course in sign language so we can help the different kinds of people here,” tour guide Najla Aldrees said.

Women make up 21 of the 28 tour guides, a visible example of Vision 2030 initiatives. Visitors and tourists can see the large number of women not only leading tours but also serving at the highest level of hospitality in the Kingdom.

“I’m deeply proud to be one of the women who work here in Diriyah,” said Al-Qahtani, commenting on the vast changes that have taken place in Saudi Arabia under the Vision 2030 reform program.

“It’s a representation of the Kingdom's support.” 

Tour guides play a crucial role in teaching Saudis and international visitors the history and culture that paved the way for today's Saudi Arabia. 

Visitors to Diriyah can see the passion behind the work that goes into these tours. It is not a  “clock in and out” job for these guides but an ambassadorship filled with responsibility that empowers them to share the history of the Kingdom with Saudis and visiting tourists.

“We are showing our history, especially Najd history. We are presenting our country, our authentic origins and our culture,” Al-Qahtani said.

The UNESCO World Heritage site in Diriyah is known for its eye-catching mud-brick palaces that are home to more than 300 years of the Kingdom’s rich history.

But the past comes to life as the tour guides create a sense of adventure at each location, with anecdotes that transform the birthplace of the Kingdom into an unrivalled experience. 

Diriyah, past, present and future
On Saudi Arabia’s 91st National Day, the birthplace of the Kingdom continues to make history

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UK honors ‘inspirational’ Saudi alumni at Riyadh awards ceremony

UK honors ‘inspirational’ Saudi alumni at Riyadh awards ceremony
Updated 21 October 2021

UK honors ‘inspirational’ Saudi alumni at Riyadh awards ceremony

UK honors ‘inspirational’ Saudi alumni at Riyadh awards ceremony
  • The Study UK Alumni Awards 2022 call for applications is open until Oct. 29, 2021

RIYADH: The British Embassy and British Council announced the recipients of the Study UK Alumni Awards 2020-2021Study UK Alumni Awards 2020-2021 in Saudi Arabia at an awards ceremony hosted by British Ambassador in Riyadh, Neil Crompton, on Wednesday.

UK alumni from Jeddah, Riyadh, Dhahran, Qassim and Thuwal were recognized for their outstanding achievements as business professionals, entrepreneurs and community leaders, and for their important contributions in strengthening collaborative ties between the UK and Saudi Arabia.

The Study UK Alumni Awards 2022 call for applications is open until Oct. 29, 2021.

The awards were developed by the British Council and UK universities, and are open to alumni residing in any country outside the UK who have studied in the UK, at an officially recognized provider of UK university degree level study for a minimum of a term or semester, or who have been awarded a full UK degree level qualification (or higher) by a UK university in the past 15 years.

Speaking at the awards ceremony the British envoy said: “I am delighted to host the 7th Study UK Alumni Award ceremony in person this year, and have the chance to meet many of bright Saudi women and men who are driving economic success and social impact through their work, in their professions, and in their communities to achieve the vision set out by their leadership.”

He added: “This prestigious international award celebrates UK higher education and the achievements of outstanding Saudis who studied in the UK and are using their education to make a positive impact. It reflects the wider partnership between our two countries.  My congratulations to all our finalists and winners. I encourage many more Saudis who have studied in the UK to apply to the awards so that more of these amazing stories can be shared, not only to celebrate their success but also to inspire others.”

Eilidh Kennedy McLean, British Council country director, said: “The remarkable individuals we celebrated today at the awards have all taken their UK education as a starting point to excel in their chosen careers and shape the world around them. This year’s awards ceremony is testimony not only to the diversity of UK alumni and their endeavours, but also to the transformative impact of a UK education. With more than 100,000 alumni of a UK education, there is much to celebrate.”

The award received around 1,300 applications from international UK alumni in more than 100 countries, representing more than 120 UK higher education institutions across the UK. Following interviews with a judging panel, recipients were selected for the three award categories: Professional achievement, entrepreneurial, and social impact.

The professional achievement award, which recognizes alumni who have displayed exemplary leadership in their professional field, was presented to Dr. Roua Alsubki , alumna of University College London. 

Roua is vice dean of skills and development deanship at King Saud University, the first woman to hold this position.

The social impact award, which acknowledges alumni who have made an exceptional contribution to creating positive social change, was presented to Dr. Bandar Alosaimi for establishing COVIDAT, a website that provides scientific information on COVID-19 in Arabic. 

He saw a need to translate developments in medical research to the everyday Arabic reader to avoid misinformation and misconceptions about the coronavirus. 

A graduate of University of Manchester and University of Salford, where he earned his master’s and Ph.D degrees, Alosaimi is assistant professor of virology at the faculty of medicine, the head of the virology research team and chairperson of Research Laboratories at King Fahad Medical City.

The entrepreneurial award was presented to Dr. Wail Mousa, graduate of the University of Leeds. 

Mousa is the founding dean of the Entrepreneurship Institute and professor of electrical engineering at King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals. He was the first Saudi to be sponsored by Dhahran Techno Valley for a Ph.D in electronics and electrical engineering from the University of Leeds.  

Sir Steve Smith, the UK prime minister’s special representative for education, attended the awards ceremony and told Arab News: “I am here for strategic partnership between the UK and Saudi Arabia in the education sector. The role was set up following a meeting between the two governments in 2018 and the aim is to build on over 60 years of collaboration between our two countries.”

He added: “Since I was appointed a year ago, we have started lots of initiatives, some really exciting announcements in areas of special educational needs and skills in colleges and universities.”

On progress of the Saudi-UK education partnership, Smith said that the partnership is developing well. 

“The key is to have deep relationship. We are trying to make sure we have momentum for the activities, and get the partners in the UK and Saudi Arabia to see it can benefit each other.”

Saudi Education Minister Dr. Hamad bin Mohammed Al Al-Sheikh and Smith discussed ways to enhance educational, academic and research cooperation, and share best practices and expertise between the two countries.

The meeting addressed efforts by Saudi Arabia and the UK in education, fields of cooperation in public education, developing curricula, the program of the courses system for the secondary education, in addition to the education of talented students and students with disabilities.

The talks also covered cooperation in the university education, scientific research, accrediting academic qualifications, as well as academic and research partnerships among both countries’ universities, and enhancing cooperation in integrated education and remote education.

He said that universities from the two countries are coming closer to work together. The University of Birmingham on Tuesday signed an agreement with King Saud University, he added.


$250k Saudi-backed UN science award launched

$250k Saudi-backed UN science award launched
Updated 21 October 2021

$250k Saudi-backed UN science award launched

$250k Saudi-backed UN science award launched

PARIS: A Saudi-backed global award to encourage young talents in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics has been launched at the UN.
Al-Fozan Foundation, in cooperation with the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, and with the support of the Saudi permanent delegation to UNESCO, made the announcement during the 212th session of the organization’s executive council.
The first international award at UNESCO to be offered by the Kingdom, it will celebrate the outstanding achievements of five young researchers from the UN agency’s five regions around the world and will offer prize money totaling $250,000.
Five jurors specializing in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, will oversee the selection process and winners will be announced every two years.


Saudi women empowerment conference to focus on 7 themes

Saudi women empowerment conference to focus on 7 themes
Updated 21 October 2021

Saudi women empowerment conference to focus on 7 themes

Saudi women empowerment conference to focus on 7 themes
  • Imam Mohammad bin Saud Islamic University will host the 2-day event, which will bring together more than 60 experts and ministers

RIYADH: Imam Mohammad bin Saud Islamic University will hold a two-day conference to shed light on how Saudi Arabia has helped empower women through national reforms, government policies, and private initiatives.
The conference, which will be held on Nov. 22-23, will bring together more than 60 experts, ministers, and Saudi universities. It will explore seven themes and indicators of women empowerment in local and international organizations.
Prof. Nouf bint Abd Al-Aly Al-Ajmi, the vice-rector of Female Student Affairs, who is also the head of the organizing committee, told Arab News that many prominent female figures will participate in the conference.
“Saudi women have taken great strides towards empowerment, thanks to the legislation and laws issued to enhance women’s position and protect their social and personal rights and ensure their participation as decision-makers,” Al-Ajmi said.
The themes will focus on legislative reforms in the era of King Salman and how they have helped meet the demands and needs of women towards more vital social participation.
There will be an emphasis on national identity and citizenship through women’s empowerment in education and training.
The rector of the Imam Mohammad bin Saud Islamic University, Prof. Ahmed Salim Al-Amiri, said the royal approval to organize this conference reflected the interest and support of the Kingdom’s leadership for Saudi women.
“Saudi women have enjoyed many rights while many historic and key decisions were issued to enhance women’s role in society and empower them to be an active partner in national development,” Al-Amiri said.
The rector said various governmental and non-governmental sectors will participate in the event, including Saudi universities, to explore women’s empowerment on different levels.
The conference will also focus on government projects and initiatives that support the empowerment of Saudi women, key indicators of women’s empowerment, and new functional areas.
The successes and achievements of women in the era of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques will also be highlighted.


Who's Who: Waleed Al-Khayyat, head of marketing and corporate communication at LogiPoint

Who's Who: Waleed Al-Khayyat, head of marketing and corporate communication at LogiPoint
Updated 21 October 2021

Who's Who: Waleed Al-Khayyat, head of marketing and corporate communication at LogiPoint

Who's Who: Waleed Al-Khayyat, head of marketing and corporate communication at LogiPoint

Waleed Al-Khayyat is head of marketing and corporate communication at LogiPoint, the Kingdom’s pioneering logistics real estate company, which builds and operates bonded and re-export zones, logistics parks and economic zones across Saudi Arabia.

Simultaneously, Al-Khayyat holds the portfolio of the head of communications and PR at the Red Sea Gateway Terminal, which is recognized among the most state-of-the-art container terminals not only in the Kingdom, but also across the region.

He joined the RSGT team as workplace service manager in March 2013 and won the employee of the year award the same year.

Al-Khayyat spent five years immersed in the logistics ecosystem at RSGT and gained hands-on practical experience in leadership, logistics, facilities management and operations.

He was entrusted with the portfolio of head of marketing and corporate communication at LogiPoint in October 2016 and took on the additional mantle of head of communications and PR at RSGT in February 2020.

He relishes the challenge of his dual roles and has spent the past eight years making his mark in the Kingdom’s logistics and supply chain industry, during which he has developed a passion for engaging with internal and external clients.

Al-Khayyat’s remit is to ensure that both companies communicate their value proposition to the local and international markets effectively, consistently and comprehensively.

Al-Khayyat completed his bachelor’s degree in business administration from Cape Breton University, Canada, in 2010 and attained a master’s degree in engineering management from the Catholic University of America, US, in 2012.

He believes in the value of growth through constant learning and has attended a variety of training, workshops and short courses which have enabled him to evolve as a professional.


Saudi Arabia to lead presidency of UNOCHA donor countries in 2022

Saudi Arabia to lead presidency of UNOCHA donor countries in 2022
Updated 21 October 2021

Saudi Arabia to lead presidency of UNOCHA donor countries in 2022

Saudi Arabia to lead presidency of UNOCHA donor countries in 2022
  • The UNOCHA work will aid advocacy, coordination, policy, and information management

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia will lead the upcoming presidency of the group of donor countries for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs from 2022-2023.
Assistant Supervisor General Director for Planning and Development at the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center Dr. Aqeel Al-Ghamdi met with Saudi Arabia’s permanent representative to the UN in Geneva, Dr. Abdulaziz Al-Wasel, to discuss the Kingdom’s presidency, its plan, and upcoming meetings in Geneva.
The two sides also discussed issues of common interest in humanitarian and relief affairs.
Along with the Kingdom’s humanitarian aid and rapid response efforts, the UNOCHA work will aid advocacy, coordination, policy, information management, and humanitarian financial tools and services.
During the meeting, Al-Ghamdi highlighted the role of the Saudi government in leading humanitarian and relief work around the world, focussing on KSRelief’s 1,700 projects in 75 countries at a total cost of $5.5 billion. Neighboring Yemen receives the most aid provisions due to its current political turmoil, with Palestine, Syria and Somalia following as top beneficiaries.
Last March, Supervisor-General of KSRelief Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah announced the Kingdom’s pledge of $430 million to fund the UN Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan for 2021. The Kingdom has been the leading donor of humanitarian assistance to Yemen for the past six years.
Al-Wasel praised KSRelief and its vital role in serving those affected around the world.