How a visually impaired talented Saudi realized her full potential

Special How a visually impaired talented Saudi realized her full potential
1 / 2
Among the many courses Ebtehal Al-Nasir completed, she had received a bachelor's degree in law with first class honors. (Supplied)
Special How a visually impaired talented Saudi realized her full potential
2 / 2
Ebtehal Al-Nasir with other Qimam Fellowship students. (Supplied)
Short Url
Updated 29 May 2022

How a visually impaired talented Saudi realized her full potential

How a visually impaired talented Saudi realized her full potential
  • Through tailored training and mentoring, Ebtehal Al-Nasir is building a successful law career
  • Multiple schemes are helping improve quality of life and opportunities for Saudis with disabilities

DUBAI: Ebtehal Al-Nasir was in her first year of medical school when she lost her sight as a result of illness. She had long dreamed of becoming a doctor but suddenly it felt like a successful career in any field was now out of her reach.

“I wondered what would happen to the hard work I had put in for years,” Al-Nasir, who is originally from Qurayyat, a city in northern Saudi Arabia, told Arab News.

“I heard a lot of negative, depressing things at that time. Among them: I should be grateful that I graduated high school and that a lot of people are doing well with just a high-school degree; university is hard, how are you going to study when you can’t see? And many other similar discouraging words.

“I would hear this and yet, in my eyes, I still saw my dreams, my ambitions, my goals, my effort and my toil. Should all that have been in vain? At that time, I made a decision: I said I would finish my studies no matter the difficulties I would face.”

People with disabilities account for 7.1 percent of the Saudi population, according to the General Authority for Statistics, including 811,610 who are classified as visually impaired,.

In an effort to ensure all citizens and residents enjoy a good quality of life, the Saudi government has prioritized efforts to preserve the rights of people with disabilities by enhancing the support and services available to them to ensure that their dignity is maintained. In the process, it has also worked to challenge the negative attitudes that can surround disability.

Refusing to allow blindness to define her or limit her potential, Al-Nasir and her family sought out charitable organizations and institutions that could help her adapt to life with impaired vision and, later, universities that were suitably equipped to accept students with sight issues.

Specialists at the National Association of the Blind, also known as Kafeef, and Mubseroon, a charity for people with visual disabilities, taught her how to use braille, a touch-based system of reading and writing that uses patterns of raised dots to represent the letters of the alphabet, and how to walk safely and independently using a white cane.




Ebtehal Al-Nasir lost her sight in her first year of medical school, but soon learned braille to compensate. (Shutterstock)

They also showed her how to operate specially adapted digital devices, including a smartphone and computer, using touch and sound.

These tools, together with the unstinting support of her family, gave Al-Nasir the confidence not only to return to her studies but to excel among her peers.

“I went back to university and left medicine to study business administration,” she said. “I specialized in law, which I had a passion for.

“That year, I was so grateful to receive a bachelor’s degree in law from the School of Business Administration at Northern Border University, with first class honors, and I was a top student in my college.”

In addition, Al-Nasir graduated with a diploma in English from the International Academy for Human Development in the UK, and was chosen for the Qimam Fellowship, an intensive, 12-day training program launched in 2018 to empower high-potential university students in Saudi Arabia through one-on-one mentoring and career guidance.




Ebtehal Al-Nasir with a display of some of the numerous awards she has received. (Supplied)

She is also an accredited trainer with the Technical and Vocational Training Corporation, a Saudi government agency.

All in all, in the seven years since she lost her sight, Al-Nasir has completed more than 60 courses and participated in a wide range of forums and events, the most prominent of which included representing her university during two consecutive rounds of a competition organized by the Saudi Center for Commercial Arbitration.

She said that earning a place in the Qimam Fellowship was a particularly transformative experience, which helped redefine her life goals.

“I had the opportunity to connect with inspiring CEOs” through the fellowship, she said. “One of the guest speakers that came to deliver a talk about their personal journey was especially inspiring for me. They also had a disability.

“When I was accepted into Project1932, I told my mentor about this speaker and he actually helped me connect with him directly.”




Ebtehal Al-Nasir with other Qimam Fellowship students. (Supplied)

Project1932, which is designed to empower the emerging young generation of future Saudi leaders, matches selected high-potential candidates with experienced business leaders to guide them during their first years of higher education and professional careers.

“The outreach was welcome and I found it fascinating that I could connect with someone of his caliber and start to build my network with inspirational thought leaders that I met through Qimam,” Al-Nasir said.

During their one-on-one coaching sessions, she was grateful for her mentor’s honesty about the difficulties she would likely face along her chosen career path and what development goals she should focus on.

“He gave me very specific advice,” she said. “I took it seriously and worked on his advice and made massive improvements. This has truly helped me develop my skills and capabilities.”

Al-Nasir has since interned at leading law firms, and volunteered with the charitable Princess Al-Anoud Foundation and the Saudi Association of Special Education, also known as GESTER, a scientific association at King Saud University that offers tuition and support services for people with disabilities and other special needs.




Ebtehal Al-Nasir has been rendering voluntary work to help other students with disabilities. (Supplied)

This voluntary work reflects Al-Nasir’s long-running desire to help others achieve their goals. During her studies at Northern Border University, for example, she and some friends established a society that promoted inclusion and lobbied for better services for students with disabilities.

“After losing my vision, I wanted to continue my undergraduate studies at a university that was qualified for people with visual disabilities,” she said.

“This led me to set a goal on the first day there, even though it was not equipped for the disabled, which was not to graduate until I had spread awareness, even if only minimally, about the culture of the visually impaired.”

The Saudi government has developed a legal framework designed to protect people with disabilities from harm, promote equality in education, and provide them with social care, rehabilitation services and healthcare.

Authorities have also introduced employment initiatives, improvements to mobility, transportation and parking, support for sign language, and housing and mobile services for people with disabilities, while also working to ensure that they are able to participate in decision-making processes.

The Authority for Persons with Disabilities was established in 2018 to improve quality of life for disabled people in the Kingdom and empower them to participate in society in inclusive and effective ways.




Saudi Arabia's Authority for Persons with Disabilities is tasked with empowering citizens with disabilities "to participate in society in inclusive and effective ways." (APD photo)

It is part of the National Transformation Program, an economic action plan launched by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman under the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 development and diversification agenda.

“The Authority for Persons with Disabilities … was formed to empower persons with disabilities and enhance their role in the Kingdom,” said Al-Nasir.

She added that among other things it “aims to enable persons with disabilities to obtain suitable employment and educational opportunities, to achieve independence and integration as actors in society that contribute to the economic development of our country.”

Today, for the thousands of Saudis who, like Al-Nasir, live with disabilities, no ambition or dream is too great for them to achieve as far as education, employment or professional advancement is concerned.

“As the crown prince said, the sky is the limit for our ambitions,” Al-Nasir said.

 


Childhood memories of Hajj pilgrimages inspire Saudi filmmaker’s latest project

Saudi filmmaker Mujtaba Saeed is currently developing a script that draws heavily on his relationship with Makkah
Saudi filmmaker Mujtaba Saeed is currently developing a script that draws heavily on his relationship with Makkah
Updated 17 min 43 sec ago

Childhood memories of Hajj pilgrimages inspire Saudi filmmaker’s latest project

Saudi filmmaker Mujtaba Saeed is currently developing a script that draws heavily on his relationship with Makkah
  • Mujtaba Saeed’s script draws parallels between Makkah and Berlin, and explores the contrasts between traditional values and the modern world

RIYADH: Saudi filmmaker Mujtaba Saeed’s relationship with Makkah began at an early age. He fondly recalls family journeys to the vibrant city for Umrah or Hajj, surrounded by people of all ethnicities and nationalities who gathered at the holy place for one common purpose.

He paints a picture of childhood road trips across the multi-toned sand dunes of Saudi Arabia as buses passed by carrying strangers from all walks of life, all chanting the same prayer in a united voice.

Saeed remembers the journeys from his childhood home in the city of Saihat, in the Eastern Province, to the Hijaz region in the west of the country as being full of excitement and marvel.

Mujtaba Saeed’s 2021 film ‘Zawal’ won a Golden Palm award for Best Short Film at the Saudi Film Festival, and a Golden Sail award
at the Gulf Radio and Television Festival, which took place in Bahrain. (Supplied)

“It was filled with adventure,” he told Arab News. “From a child’s perspective, it was a long trip that never ends. My relationship with Makkah was the idea of traveling to a place.”

The screenwriter and director is currently developing a script that draws heavily on his relationship with the holy city, which was a big part of his life until he moved to Germany as a young adult to continue his education.

“After that, I didn’t visit (Makkah) for a while but the memories remained,” he said. “I consider (the memories) things that open up questions related to time, connection and the act of travel … I think it’s similar to any Saudi’s relationship to Makkah.”

HIGHLIGHT

Mujtaba Saeed remembers the journeys from his childhood home in the city of Saihat, in the Eastern Province, to the Hijaz region in the west of the country as being full of excitement and marvel. Saeed, who now splits his time between residences in Berlin and Saudi Arabia, said these emotions and his experiences with the holy city are what inspired his latest script.

He added that the city is a focus for the many individuals and families who visit it as pilgrims throughout their lives.

“I think I grew up with these visuals and they’re filled with emotions; Makkah is a place filled with emotions for me,” he explained.

Saeed, who now splits his time between residences in Berlin and Saudi Arabia, said these emotions and his experiences with the holy city are what inspired his latest script. It is still a work in progress but he is determined to share its story not only with fellow Saudis but audiences around the world.

“It’s up to everyone to try to engage and integrate with different cultures,” he said. “I think what’s inside us as humans and what motivates us as people is all one.”

The script reflects Saeed’s own life as it revolves around two cities: Makkah and Berlin. Though there are many differences between them there are also similarities, not least a transient nature, with people constantly coming and going: Pilgrims in Makkah, and tourists and students in Berlin.

“These two places are directions (Qiblatan) for many people in the world, so I’m trying to search for the contrasts between the two and how that contrast affects the characters,” he said.

“For me, it’s also really important to see how this young city of Berlin opens up questions for anyone who visits it … questions that relate to our relationships with our bodies, and our connection to ourselves and others.”

Saeed said the search for answers to these questions by the characters in the story creates the conflict that is essential in any drama.

He added that his aim with the script is to explore the contrast between notions relating to the traditional values of “old society” and the modern, globalized world. More importantly, he said, it considers whether diverse groups of individuals, each with their own dynamic and colorful backgrounds, can coexist safely in one place.

“In Makkah, this equation exists,” said Saeed. “From the time I left to study in Germany and then worked there, there was care in a city that was also global. But still, there remains the important question: How can you amplify other voices there?”

He said he feels a responsibility as an artist to amplify voices that often go unheard. As the development of arts and entertainment in the Kingdom continues, as part of which the country aims to become a regional hub for cinema, filmmaking and broader forms of cultural exchange, he believes the growth of Saudi cinema offers an ideal opportunity to achieve that goal.

“At this stage of national renaissance, where we are giving a voice to Saudi cinema, we need, in addition to the work that the Saudi film commission does to develop regulated creations, to have an interest in more collaborative efforts, whether that’s with Europe, India, or other counties,” Saeed said.

“I think cinema will become our language — and it’s a universal language — in the coming years.

“The importance of the European Film Festival in Riyadh is something we can’t argue about and I think it’s important to focus on presenting diverse cinematic content.”

The inaugural EFF, which aimed to promote European cinema and encourage the building of contacts between filmmakers in Europe and Saudi Arabia, took place between June 15 and 22. Saeed believes it was important in terms of helping to bridge cultural gaps and encouraging ongoing communication.

“I don’t think the festival presented films that are new to this audience, because the Saudi audience greatly follows (cinema), but it’s important for European filmmakers to meet this audience,” he said.

Saeed’s other current projects include a screenplay titled “Gharaq,” which translates as “Drowning,” which in June won the Best Feature Film Script award at the 2022 Saudi Film Festival. Saeed said that it explores the duality of forgiveness and revenge, adding: “A person can’t be free unless he forgives.”

The film is prepping for production, with filming due to take place in the east of the Kingdom. He is hopeful it will be a Saudi-German co-production.

Saeed’s 2021 film “Zawal” won a Golden Palm award for Best Short Film at the Saudi Film Festival, and a Golden Sail award at the Gulf Radio and Television Festival, which took place in Bahrain between June 21 and 23. It tells the story of an 8-year-old boy who lives with his mother in a refugee camp under quarantine following the outbreak of a mystery pandemic.


Saranghae KSA festival unites K-pop fans in Jeddah

Performing on the festival's opening day, EPEX and Ateez greeted the audience in Arabic and Korean. (Supplied)
Performing on the festival's opening day, EPEX and Ateez greeted the audience in Arabic and Korean. (Supplied)
Updated 01 July 2022

Saranghae KSA festival unites K-pop fans in Jeddah

Performing on the festival's opening day, EPEX and Ateez greeted the audience in Arabic and Korean. (Supplied)
  • The Consulate General of Korea in Jeddah delievered a one-of-kind Korean experience, offering to photograph fans wearing traditional Korean outfits, as well as providing cooking demonstrations

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia's first K-pop festival, Saranghae KSA 22, brought fans from a wide range of backgrounds together under the roof of the Jeddah Superdome for a three-day celebration of Korean music and culture.

K-pop installations, an Umbrella Boulevard and a Cherry Blossoms Avenue provided picture-perfect backgrounds for fans, who were also given a taste of Korean cuisine at stalls selling a range of Korean favorites.

One audience member, Ghazal Mazen, 16, said that she grew up listening to Korean songs because of her older sisters, and has been a fan of Ateez since early 2020.

“I really can’t describe how I feel now. It feels like a dream I have been waiting to live in real life,” she said.

High-quality screens ensured fans were able to see their favorite performers, while a screen suspended from the middle of the dome displayed images taken by audience members at the photo booth, as well as short clips of the bands.

The Consulate General of Korea in Jeddah delievered a one-of-kind Korean experience, offering to photograph fans wearing traditional Korean outfits, as well as providing cooking demonstrations.

Performing on the festival's opening day, EPEX and Ateez greeted the audience in Arabic and Korean.

Both bands took a break to meet the audience and answer questions from fans.

On Wednesday, EPEX enjoyed the festive vibe of Jeddah Season by visiting the Historical Jeddah zone, walking through museums and the house of horror, playing games, and winning prizes.

Fans of Ateez spotted the band members shopping at the Red Sea Mall on the same day.

Saturday will mark the last day of the festival with Monsta X and Verivery.

 


Saudi Red Crescent Authority and The Helicopter Co. launch air ambulance service

Saudi Red Crescent Authority and The Helicopter Co. launch air ambulance service
Updated 01 July 2022

Saudi Red Crescent Authority and The Helicopter Co. launch air ambulance service

Saudi Red Crescent Authority and The Helicopter Co. launch air ambulance service
  • The service will be implemented in Riyadh first then gradually cover the rest of the Kingdom’s regions in several phases

RIYADH: The Saudi Red Crescent Authority and The Helicopter Co. have signed an agreement to launch an air ambulance service in the Kingdom.

The signing, which aims to raise the quality and efficiency of ambulance services to save lives, was attended by Health Minister Fahd Al-Jalajel, who is also chairman of the board of directors of the Saudi Red Crescent Authority.

The agreement was signed by President of the Saudi Red Crescent Authority Jalal Al-Owaisi and CEO of The Helicopter Co. Capt. Arnaud Martinez.

The agreement stems from the authority’s belief in the importance of an air ambulance, which can respond quickly to save lives in emergencies and exceptional circumstances — such as locations that are difficult to reach otherwise — in which speed of communication is crucial to providing medical care.

The agreement stipulates the provision of air ambulance helicopters around the clock to transport highway accident casualties and transfer critical cases between hospitals.

The service will be implemented in Riyadh first then gradually cover the rest of the Kingdom’s regions in several phases.

Air ambulance helicopters will also be provided to respond to critical cases at holy sites and will be among the services provided by the authority to pilgrims and visitors during the Hajj season.

Raed Ismail, chairman of the board of directors at The Helicopter Co., said that this agreement is the result of relentless efforts and cooperation with the Saudi Red Crescent Authority and represents an important step in keeping pace with modern health systems that contribute to saving lives.

The Helicopter Co. was established in 2019 by the Public Investment Fund as the first local operator of commercial helicopters. Today, the company owns 17 helicopters that provide air ambulance services and are also available for tourism and business trips. It recently signed an agreement to purchase 42 new helicopters.

The air ambulance service falls within the objectives of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030, as it will contribute to facilitating access to emergency medical care and reduce the percentage of deaths and injuries resulting from traffic accidents.


Diriyah,Jewel of the Kingdom: STEM training programs to foster Diriyah youth’s untapped talent and potential

Diriyah,Jewel of the Kingdom: STEM training programs to foster Diriyah youth’s untapped talent and potential
Updated 2 min 57 sec ago

Diriyah,Jewel of the Kingdom: STEM training programs to foster Diriyah youth’s untapped talent and potential

Diriyah,Jewel of the Kingdom: STEM training programs to foster Diriyah youth’s untapped talent and potential
  • The programs will be conducted in Arabic with the courses covering training across video games, film and animation production, breakthroughs in the field of science, immersive art experiences, and music and film discovery

The Diriyah Gate Development Authority has reinforced its commitment to the mission of investing in the personal growth of the community’s youth through the establishment of a series of STEM training programs.

The initiative, “Program Your Passion,” is a STEM-focused community training project in collaboration with DigiPen, the global training institute that seeks to foster and enrich the untapped talent and potential of the local Diriyah youth.

DigiPen, founded as a computer simulation and animation company by Claude Comair in 1988 in Vancouver, British Columbia, was the first institution globally to offer a bachelor’s degree in video games programming.

The training programs launched by DGDA will be provided to middle and secondary school students across the Diriyah community. Introducing digital skills will help ensure that students are technically proficient, and will have the chance to explore future job opportunities across Saudi Arabia’s thriving digital economy, in line with the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 program.

The “Program Your Passion” project will have two main development goals: The first will encourage students to develop their skills in developing video games, while the second will ensure they become proficient in new skillsets like animation design, coding, and much more.

The programs will be conducted in Arabic with the courses covering training across video games, film and animation production, breakthroughs in the field of science, immersive art experiences, and music and film discovery. As a first step last week the program started the training workshops for 12 Saudi trainers, under the supervision of experts from DigiPen.

Ahlam Althunayan, community engagement director at DGDA, highlighted her excitement about the program being introduced across Diriyah schools, saying: “I am delighted to bring this program to the youth of Diriyah, to help nurture them with the skills of tomorrow. We are excited to welcome the world-class programs from DigiPen for the first time to our community. This brings new opportunities for our youth community members.

“Diriyah shines because of its people, and right here in the Jewel of the Kingdom we are certain that ‘Program Your Passion’ will harness new opportunities and empower young Saudi talents with digital tools to share their rich culture and heritage with the world.”

DGDA is committed to empowering Diriyah’s youth and has been working to implement training programs like these to provide unique opportunities for the local community. Earlier this year, DGDA hosted the launch ceremony of the second Madrasti Codes (My School Codes) competition in the heart of the At-Turaif neighborhood, facing the historic Salwa Palace.

In addition, DGDA’s community engagement team also hosts a series of monthly workshops aimed at introducing community-focused initiatives to improve ease of living, and community services across Diriyah.


Jordanian minister praises Saudi transport services for Hajj pilgrims

Jordanian minister praises Saudi transport services for Hajj pilgrims
Updated 01 July 2022

Jordanian minister praises Saudi transport services for Hajj pilgrims

Jordanian minister praises Saudi transport services for Hajj pilgrims
  • Mohammad Al-Khalaileh cited the Haramain High Speed Railway Project in particular

RIYADH: The Jordanian minister of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs has praised the development of Saudi Arabia’s transportation services for Hajj pilgrims while making the pilgrimmage himself, Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported.

Mohammad Al-Khalaileh cited the Haramain High Speed Railway Project in particular, one of the major projects designed to serve pilgrims and Umrah performers who seek to visit the two holy mosques.

In a statement to SPA, before his departure to the holy sites in Makkah on board Haramain High Speed Railway from Madinah, the minister reiterated that Jordanian pilgrims will benefit from the diversity of transportation services that enables pilgrims to easily and quickly move around, whether by train, land transport via buses, or domestic air transport.

He added that this reflected the sincere and great efforts made by the Kingdom under the leadership of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The minister extended his appreciation and gratitude to the Kingdom’s government for all the services and facilities provided to pilgrims to facilitate the Hajj journey.