RIYADH: 98,816 pilgrims have benefited from the Makkah Route initiative which enabled Hajj pilgrims from five countries complete immigration, cargo, and travel procedures before departing for the Kingdom.
The initiative is part of Saudi Arabia's Guests of God Service Program and seeks to provide visitors to the holy sites with the finest possible services to help them perform their Hajj rituals easily and comfortably.
274 flights operated from Indonesia, Pakistan, Malaysia, Morocco, and Bangladesh to the Kingdom’s airports in Jeddah and Madinah as part of the initiative, and the average time to finalize procedures was one minute and 48 seconds.
Specialist Saudi teams were sent to each country to assist local staff finalize the procedures for the pilgrims.
The purpose of the forum is to contribute to raising and developing awareness toward cultural heritage, as well as to protect it from extinction
Updated 04 October 2022
Al-MAHRA, Yemen: On Mahri Language Day, the Mahri Forum was held at Qishn School, Al-Mahra governorate, with the participation of the Saudi Program for the Development and Reconstruction of Yemen.
The purpose of the forum is to contribute to raising and developing awareness toward cultural heritage, as well as to protect it from extinction.
The SDRPY participation comes with reference to strengthening ties between both countries, as well as supporting culture in Yemen.
“We wish Yemen all the best, and may it recover within a secure, prosperous, and stable environment. May Yemen be able to contribute to the projects and initiatives hosted by the SDRPY, which amounted to 224 programs and initiatives in total, including more than 50 projects in Al-Mahra, with the purpose of improving its daily life and raising the efficiency of infrastructure in various sectors,” said Abdullah Basilman, director of the SDRPY’s program office in Al-Mahra.
Mahri is a Semitic language like Soqotri and Shehri, among others. SDRPY aims to contribute to the revival of the Mahri language and avoid its extinction through its participation in the forum.
MAKKAH: The General Presidency for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques, represented by the social, voluntary and humanitarian services, has launched the “Tawqeer” (elderly care) initiative, through which several programs and services are provided for elderly people to enable them to perform rituals in ease and comfort, enriching their experience.
Two Holy Mosques chief Sheikh Abdulrahman Al-Sudais affirmed the presidency’s keenness to provide the best social, voluntary and humanitarian services to pilgrims while applying preventive measures, following health instructions and providing visitors with a safe and healthy environment in the Grand Mosque in Makkah.
Saudi Arabia’s children now have holistic sports program for skills development
Focus on play and not competition, says agency designing programs
Multiple sports for ages 4-10 including dance, yoga, gymnastics
Updated 04 October 2022
RIYADH: A local organization, Sports Hub KSA, is designing tailor-made sports programs for children that emphasize play and skills development rather than competition, and which encourages the involvement of parents.
Simon Muller, CEO and co-founder of Sports Hub KSA, said of the approach to programs: “We want to give children a chance to do sports differently than in a school environment. There’s no pressure, it’s not in 45 minutes the teacher doesn’t have to teach something specific … the children can play in the time frame that they are with us.”
Sports Hub KSA is a Saudi Arabia-based agency that specializes in creating and delivering sports programs for stakeholders such as Inspire Sports, schools, families, and individual children aged between four and 10.
This year, for example, Inspire Sports organized a summer camp program, one of the first in the Kingdom after COVID-19, allowing children to interact with others their age.
Unlike other sports programs, Inspire does not urge competition or being the best, it rather sets a foundation for children to develop their skills while enjoying multiple activities and sports in one session.
“It’s a mix of sports, multi-sport is the core of our concept, it isn’t one single sport, children always need to explore different things and one sport can get boring after four or five sessions,” Muller said.
Muller believes that it is important to play with children especially “those aged between four and 10, as it is way more important than specializing in one sport.”
There can be five to eight sports or games in a session such as athletics, dodgeball, basketball, football, gymnastics, dance and yoga. “We are more focused on the game rather than the sport. “It’s very interesting that the children are interested in many different things.”
Muller said that yoga, which was done at least once a week, was quite popular in the program.
The three-hour summer program only offered apples, bananas, and water. “We just want to set examples and offer something healthy during our sessions to influence other parents and see what we are offering. We are also using social media channels to promote healthy eating,” he said.
Muller said that inclusivity is a major aspect of their programs, so the role of parents is important and coaches encourage them to be involved and present during sessions.
“Inclusion is a very important aspect of what we are doing, we don’t want to exclude anyone. We try to have games for children of different levels and age and development stages to have fun together,” Muller said.
“We are totally aware that what we are doing is something new and we as a company are new and we also know that trust is the most important thing for parents when they decide to send their children to programs, especially when the children are so young,” he said.
“So, we have open days where families can come with their children and just try it and see what we are doing but we also invite the parents all the time. The doors are completely open so parents can come in and see what we are doing at any time of the program,” he said.
“Everything is important at a young age, between three and six it’s very clear in the scientific world that this is the most important age in developing certain behaviors and having a positive association with certain things,” Muller said.
“The ultimate goal is that the children are with us, especially in the age group of four to nine, are with us for two to three years, and not just summer. When they spend couple of hours with us every week, their fundamentals are way more developed than other children that don’t have that opportunity,” he said.
Muller believes it is important for children in their early years to try different things. After the initial first few years enrolled in the sports program, children will then be able to choose the sports that they love.
Photographer Faisal bin Zarah’s exhibition is a love letter to the Kingdom
Updated 03 October 2022
RIYADH: Photographer Faisal bin Zarah’s first three-day solo exhibition, “Raw Kingdom,” transformed Lakum Art Space in Riyadh into a vivid love letter to Saudi Arabia — a result of 15 years of hard work.
The exhibition, which took place from Sept. 27 to Oct. 2, showcased photos of the vast spaces of the northern region to AlUla in the west, and the beautiful landscapes of Riyadh in the central region.
“Every Saudi knows his work, but they don’t realize it’s Faisal,” Dana Qabbani, the exhibition’s curator, told Arab News. “His photos are in the passport sector, in the Absher app, all the ministries that you think of. His commercial work is very known.”
Spending a large part of his life photographing for commercial purposes, Bin Zarah found that the copious amounts of time and effort spent on his unique shots made them more valuable than a mere business transaction.
He views his work as something to be contemplated and reflected upon. In a single exhibition, he rerouted his path from corporate to creative.
“A photo that took me two years in the making should not be posted on a website or used for commercial or advertisement purposes. A better use of it is to consider it as a piece of fine art,” Bin Zarah told Arab News.
But how does one transform a commercial photographer’s work into an art piece? For the exhibition’s curator, the challenge was not within the content, but the presentation.
“We chose the best materials to showcase his work and we chose a certain sequence for these (photographs), we sort of gave his work a timeline. We took you on a trip,” Qabbani said.
“I did this art gallery because everything you see is our limited edition prints exclusively for collectors and art enthusiasts,” he added.
Bin Zarah believes that the widespread use of his images for social media or commercial advertising purposes will degrade the value of his work.
“To me, a photo is much deeper than a click of a shutter and you’re able to see it. It’s a message. It’s an idea. It’s a story. I am a storyteller,” Bin Zarah said.
The story of this long-awaited love letter springs from love itself: Bin Zarah began his journey with photography when his wife gifted him his first camera in 2007 and taught him the basics, which he proudly proclaims.
He began to visually feed his eye through photo-sharing websites like Flickr until he found his style, gravitating towards land and cityscape photography.
His work is two-fold: One aspect of it focuses on the growing civilization and the other industrialization in Riyadh.
He describes his shot of the full moon rising over Faisaliyah Tower in his work titled “Lift Off” as a “moment of joy.”
For someone working in the telecommunications field during the day and taking caring for four children, he sees his photography escapades as a getaway from all the stress and negativity.
“This time is enjoyment to me. This is what drives me … When you create something, anything— even Lego or puzzles — once you finish, there’s a reward, you get the sense of achievement and completion. This is what I get when I complete a project,” Bin Zarah said.
His unique angles even impressed the owner of the Kingdom Tower, Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, who has the photo of it hanging in his office.
At Lakum Art Space, it was showcased as part of Bin Zarah’s “Dawn to Dusk” photo series, which takes you on a trip to various sites in Riyadh through the turning of the sun.
His dedication is apparent in his work. Bin Zarah spent two years awaiting the full moon every month to capture the perfect moment as it grazed both the Faisaliah and Kingdom towers in his moon series.
“His work ethics really made this a piece of cake to curate, to install, so what I loved is that it wasn’t just a photography exhibition, it’s basically taking someone’s career from A to Z, a different destination,” Qabbani said.
The other aspect of his work pursues his love for traveling to discover gems within the Kingdom. With that, he hopes to inspire people to venture into these spaces and appreciate their beauty.
“My message is: We have an amazing vibrant Kingdom from north to south, east to west, and it has so many undiscovered jewels, untouched by humans or others. I’m only a person that’s showing one side of the beauty. The real beauty is when you visit the place physically and see it,” Bin Zarah said.
In his AlUla collection, he features various self-portraits taken under the night sky of the city’s northern part, Al-Gharamil, encapsulating all the stars within single shots, found in his works “Interstellar” and “Message to the Galaxy.”
Bin Zarah uses a Sony A7R Mark IV, a 60 megapixel camera, with a variation of zoom and wide lenses to capture even the smallest of details. Standing parallel to his work easily gives the audience the instinct to reach out and feel the texture.
He quite frequently uses drones and stitching methods to ensure that the details are vibrant enough even for the human eye to spot.
“I am going to usual places and trying to capture them in an unusual way … By design, the drone camera is wide. So it will capture the whole thing even if you are at 200 meters, but nobody used it to cover a 4 square km area. I did a sky scan in order for me to show these amazing details,” he said.
In his astonishing “Earth’s Veins,” he took 21 photos from a 500 meter distance, stitched together to reveal the red dunes and mountains near Thadig, a historical city north of Riyadh.
The unusual landscape scene stretches across 3 km formed by wind and rainwater that pushed through the crevices of the land.
As a photographer who’s been traveling across the Kingdom for years, his work acts as documentations of the landscape before the initiation of several giga projects under Vision 2030, such as NEOM and Qiddiya.
He sees the projects as elevations to these spaces, not tampering with the environment. They actually reflect the underlying history of the region.
“NEOM, which is The Line, is mirror. So it will not intervene with the environment. It will be within it … Saudi Arabia is the land of civilization. The history of the whole earth started from the Arabian peninsula,” Bin Zarah said.
“The new projects are good for the citizens, and I’m so happy that they are putting in mind the environment. They’re not destroying anything and are actually conserving it.”
Who’s Who: Abdullah Al-Assaf, co-founder and chairman, OCEANX Consulting Firm
Updated 04 October 2022
Abdullah Al-Assaf is the co-founder and chairman of OCEANX, a Saudi consulting firm that provides consultative services to the government and private sectors through a selection of experts and competencies.
With over 14 years of experience, Al-Assaf has significantly contributed to the entrepreneurship sector. His specialties include financial engineering, developing financial models, redesigning financial plans and creating governance systems for various government and private entities.
He is also an approved valuer of economic facilities by the Saudi Authority for Accredited Valuers, also known as Taqeem.
During his early years, he established small manufacturing plants and cafes in 2005. While completing his university studies, he began working part-time as a business developer for a real estate company in 2006.
He worked as a financial business developer for the Badir Program for Technology Incubators from 2011 to 2012, following his bachelor’s and master’s programs.
In 2012, Al-Assaf was a vice president of finance at Gulf Furnishing Group. Subsequently, he co-founded OCEANX, and established the International Senbar Group, where he is currently a Chairman.
In 2014, Al-Assaf established Aram Investment Holding, affiliated with several manufacturing, wholesale and retail companies. Additionally, he co-founded VEST Investment Co., VoM Cloud Accounting Platform, and Fuel for Funding.
Moreover, Al-Assaf gave workshops on topics related to entrepreneurship and financial management in collaboration with public universities, including King Saud University, Taibah University, King Saud bin Abdulaziz University for Health Sciences, and chambers of commerce, such as the Riyadh, Al-Ahsa, and Abha chambers.
He holds a master’s degree in international business and finance from De Montfort University, UK, a bachelor’s degree in finance from Qassim University, and diplomas in investment and management, finance and business strategy.