KAUST professor ‘giving back to Saudi’ in handcycle journey across Kingdom

KAUST professor Matteo Parsani. (Supplied)
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KAUST professor Matteo Parsani. (Supplied)
KAUST professor Matteo Parsani. (Supplied)
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KAUST professor Matteo Parsani. (Supplied)
KAUST professor Matteo Parsani. (Supplied)
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KAUST professor Matteo Parsani. (Supplied)
KAUST professor Matteo Parsani. (Supplied)
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KAUST professor Matteo Parsani. (Supplied)
KAUST professor Matteo Parsani. (Supplied)
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KAUST professor Matteo Parsani. (Supplied)
KAUST professor Matteo Parsani. (Supplied)
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KAUST professor Matteo Parsani. (Supplied)
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Updated 21 December 2023
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KAUST professor ‘giving back to Saudi’ in handcycle journey across Kingdom

KAUST professor ‘giving back to Saudi’ in handcycle journey across Kingdom
  • Matteo Parsani will cover 150 km per day for research, disability awareness

DAMMAM: At the crack of dawn on Dec. 17, as the seemingly endless line of trucks and cars whizzed by at the busy-at-all-hours Dammam checkpoint on the way to Riyadh, one commuter on wheels prepared to embark his 30-day journey across the Kingdom.

The lone biker wearing a helmet, warm jacket and shirt embedded with advanced biosensors began hand cycling down the road, as the harsh morning winter air swirled around him. An entourage of about a dozen team members followed in various vehicles behind him.

He is none other than King Abdullah University of Science and Technology’s associate professor of applied mathematics and computational science, Matteo Parsani, who lost the use of his legs six years ago after a road accident. He did not want to let that stop him from making this historic journey.

The journey, called "Athar - East to West," will take him from Dammam to Riyadh, to Qassim to Hail, then AlUla in 2023 and, starting in 2024, he will stop at Red Sea Global, Madinah, Makkah, Jeddah and finally, KAUST on Jan. 17. Parsani will cover a distance of over more than 3,000 km, or 150 km per day.

“I would say that maybe I’m like a moving lab,” he told told Arab News moments before he started rolling away.

Parsani will be wearing custom-made biosensors made by KAUST scientists that will gather data from his body. The sensors will collect biodata in real time, and have been developed by a team of researchers and scientists. One sensor will monitor his heart rate, while another will measure things like his dopamine levels, energy level, sweat secretion rate as well as body motion.

It all started a few years ago when he asked his dean for about a month off so he could handcycle across the Kingdom. The dean told him he would get back to him.

A few weeks later, Parsani found himself on a Zoom call with about six other professors who work at the university. They proposed that he wear some of the sensors that they were developing in their labs. Instead of merely going on a handcycling holiday, Parsani’s journey would become part of the KAUST research experience.

“It's a very nice collaboration, a very nice synergy with my colleagues,” he said.

The dates are significant. He chose to start two days after the KAUST commencement, which was on Dec. 15. While many at the university conduct research in December and January, there are no scheduled classes during that time.

The cooler weather is another positive factor.

Everything logistical was planned meticulously ahead of time by his dedicated team — they even did a dry run of the entirety of the route ahead of time to test out the whole journey and anticipate all plausible interruptions or disruptions. About a dozen experts and team members will join him along the way, with some coming along for only part of the journey.

Parsani also has a whole line of Saudi government entities and commercial sponsors backing him. Local sponsors include the Ministry of Sport, Ministry of Interior, Saudi Embassy in the US, Authority for Persons with Disabilities, Albaik, Red Sea Global, Diriyah Gate Development Authority, the Royal Commission for AlUla and Saudi Sports for All Federation. International entities sponsoring the project include McLaren Applied, McLaren F1, E1 Series, Sparco, Villa Beretta Rehabilitation Research Innovation Institute and Partanna.

The Authority for Persons with Disabilities will distribute 50 handbikes to various groups across the cities Parsani will pass through so that locals can join in the fun.

But anyone can tune in, no matter where they are. Parsani has three GoPros on him which will live stream to the KAUST website via YouTube.

As a young person, Parsani was always athletic: “I have been always a ‘sport person,’ I played at a semi-professional level. When I was younger, at a certain point, I decided to quit the soccer career and focus on my master’s degree and then Ph.D. So, at that point, I had to find something else to move — to get excited. I started to run. And then in 2017, I had a road accident, and I got a spinal cord injury,” he said.

That accident, which happened six years ago, changed Parsani’s life.

“My legs and part of my body stopped functioning. So, I spent two years really dark — I was 36 at the time,” he said.

But his positive outlook on life started to emerge as he had conversations with those around him. He met a group of young women visiting Saudi Arabia and one of them told him how she lost two sisters and her father to a road accident. That conversation changed his perspective.

“And then at that point, I thought: ‘I have a wonderful bike, which costs a lot of money. I have a wheelchair, which also cost a lot of money because I can afford it, I have a beautiful job.’ I want to do something for somebody … to give hope to the community, to give back to Saudi Arabia, which I’d say is a place to call home now,” he said.

Parsani said that he wants to join the conversation on inclusivity in the Kingdom and that his handcycle journey is bigger than just him.

Dr. Franco Molteni, director of Valduce Hospital Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Department, “Villa Beretta” Rehab Centre in Italy, who has been monitoring and treating Parsani ever since the accident, highlighted the impact of physical activity on the professor’s progress: “The last five years of Matteo’s follow-up demonstrates that exercise can regenerate some connection between the brain and the muscles.”

But as much as they prepared, part of the excitement for Parsani is not knowing exactly what to expect in terms of landscape. And while they planned meetings, they are excited about the organic interactions they will have with nature and with people.

“I couldn’t sleep last night, I felt like before an exam at the university. It was really a weird sensation. So, I’m looking forward to start, because I just want to do it,” he said.

Parsani began his physical training a year and a half ago, and the logistics of defining the route and securing the sponsors along the way took about six months.

The journey is possibly the first documented Kingdom-wide route from coast to coast by anyone, even an able-bodied person.

At first, Parsani was meant to travel for 20 days, but after discussions with his team, the journey was extended to one month, giving the associate professor the opportunity to see the beauty of Saudi Arabia and have meetings along the way.

“I also need to let my body to rest,” he said.

Along the route Parsani will make key stops at specific places to have meetings with organizations and the disability community.

“There are a lot of things going on. The reason why we do that is because we will want to reach out to many, many people and pass the message; doing this kind of activity is going to enhance the message and the impact,” he said.

This 30-day journey aims to promote physical activity, raise awareness about people with disabilities, showcase KAUST research and highlight the beauty of Saudi Arabia’s regions. It will also study the effect of intense physical exercise on the musculoskeletal system and the mental health of people with limited mobility.

Parsani said: “I believe in the power of personal stories to inspire change. My journey embodies the spirit of determination and resilience. I also see this as an opportunity to showcase Saudi Arabia’s commitment to inclusivity and its promotion of adaptive sports and, in general, sports to enhance quality of life.”

He added that the research aspect is critical: “It will help us identify gaps and areas for improvement. We are looking forward to the valuable insights this journey will provide.”

Parsani will listen to music along the route, from a playlist created with the help of his family. His daughter is possibly his biggest supporter and source of hope: “She helped me to prepare the playlist and she is always worried about me,” he added. “She saw me before the accident and after … when I could walk around and do many things, and now that I have certain limitations or that I can do things differently.”

His family is a huge reason why he feels empowered to undertake the journey.

“I also have a son who is six years old. He was born two weeks after I had my accident and I didn’t see him for a long time because I was in the ICU,” he said. “I want to show them that there are many things that they cannot do, but there are also big things they can do. My kids — they’re one of the reasons I’m doing this,” he said.

Parsani will return to KAUST two days before his daughter’s 12th birthday so he can be there to celebrate with her.


Saudi Arabia expresses concern over military escalation in Mideast

Saudi Arabia expresses concern over military escalation in Mideast
Updated 26 sec ago
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Saudi Arabia expresses concern over military escalation in Mideast

Saudi Arabia expresses concern over military escalation in Mideast

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia on Sunday expressed deep concern over the military escalation in the Middle East and urged all parties involved to exercise restraint, the Saudi Press Agency reported, citing a statement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs warned of "serious repercussions" on the region and its peoples from the dangers of a wider war, according to SPA.

Iran on Saturday launched drones and missiles against Israel, making good its threat to retaliate against the Israeli air strike that destroyed an Iranian embassy annex building in Damascus, Syria, killing at least 13 people, including two generals of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard.

The Saudi ministry "affirmed the Kingdom’s position calling for the need for the Security Council to assume its responsibility towards maintaining international peace and security, especially in this region that is extremely sensitive to global peace and security, and to prevent the escalation of the crisis that will have serious consequences if it expands," said the SPA report. 
 


Saudi, Norway foreign ministers discuss Gaza during call

Saudi, Norway foreign ministers discuss Gaza during call
Updated 14 April 2024
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Saudi, Norway foreign ministers discuss Gaza during call

Saudi, Norway foreign ministers discuss Gaza during call

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan on Saturday received a telephone call from his Norwegian counterpart Espen Barth Eide, the Kingdom’s foreign ministry said.
During the call, they discussed the latest developments in the Gaza Strip and efforts to contain the crisis.
The call comes a day after Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store said that Norway was ready to recognize a Palestinian state together with other countries,


Saudi fashion graduate who dared to dream

Saudi fashion graduate who dared to dream
Updated 13 April 2024
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Saudi fashion graduate who dared to dream

Saudi fashion graduate who dared to dream
  • Manal Marvelous’ tips for aspiring designers have turned her into social media star

RIYADH: Saudi fashion and lifestyle content creator Manal Marvelous discovered her love of design and sewing while at university and soon began sharing her work on social media.  

“My passion for fashion was a coincidence; actually, I had to take one semester of fashion classes in college because of some weird situation I got myself into and I was supposed to transfer after the semester ended, but I fell in love and never looked back,“ Marvelous told Arab News.

Manal Marvelous loves to share how she develops and sews her creations, and her TikTok has 3 million views and 700,000 followers. (Supplied)

“I love out-of-the box and creative ideas I can share with my audience, which consist of girls around my age with similar interests who either love fashion or got inspired to start their journey after watching my content,” she said.

She loves to share how she develops and sews her creations, and her TikTok has 3 million views and 700,000 followers.  

HIGHLIGHTS

• Marvelous took part in the Sony Creators Convention, where she showcased her work on models, and offered advice to aspiring content creators about the business, how to succeed, and how to make their passions their careers. 

• Marvelous believes that with an abundance of talented and creative Saudi designers, as well as the diversity of Saudi fashion and traditional costume, the KSA scene needs more useful fashion events.

• Aside from TikTok, Marvelous supports up-and-coming fashion designers on her YouTube channel, paving a path for them to enter the industry. 

• She said that constructive criticism is always appreciated, and that she tries to hear what people have to say to improve her material, gain insight into her audience, and receive feedback.

“It felt like magic to me how can you transform a piece of fabric into art just by cutting here and stitching there,” she said.

Marvelous took part in the Sony Creators Convention, where she showcased her work on models, and offered advice to aspiring content creators about the business, how to succeed, and how to make their passions their careers.

Manal Marvelous loves to share how she develops and sews her creations, and her TikTok has 3 million views and 700,000 followers. (Supplied)

“My work as a fashion and lifestyle creator takes me around the Kingdom to collaborate with global and local brands ranging from clothing to skincare to makeup,” she said.  

Aside from TikTok, Marvelous supports up-and-coming fashion designers on her YouTube channel, paving a path for them to enter the industry.  

Manal Marvelous loves to share how she develops and sews her creations, and her TikTok has 3 million views and 700,000 followers. (Supplied)

“In my YouTube channel, I share my love of sewing, but with a twist. From sewing pants out of bandannas and a corset with plastic, to recycling my old jeans into a denim jacket,” she said.

Marvelous had the backing of friends and family from the start, and they were her supporters.

Manal Marvelous loves to share how she develops and sews her creations, and her TikTok has 3 million views and 700,000 followers. (Supplied)

She did, however, mention how some elements of social media, like cyberbullying, were deterring her from sharing and how she overcame it.

“Bullying on social media has become the norm lately. What I do and what I recommend everyone do is ignore the comment, especially when it’s obvious that the person is just trying to hurt you.”

Manal Marvelous loves to share how she develops and sews her creations, and her TikTok has 3 million views and 700,000 followers. (Supplied)

She said that constructive criticism is always appreciated, and that she tries to hear what people have to say to improve her material, gain insight into her audience, and receive feedback.

“But people who just want to put you down and make you feel bad should be muted,” she added.

Marvelous believes that with an abundance of talented and creative Saudi designers, as well as the diversity of Saudi fashion and traditional costume, the KSA scene needs more useful fashion events.

“Saudi Arabia has some of the most talented and creative designers in the field, and their work should be appreciated and celebrated nationally and internationally. Having more shows in the Kingdom could be beneficial not only to the designers but to the country as well.”

Marvelous said that the Fashion Commission has been a significant asset to the sector for many years, planning events and providing support for emerging designers through programs such as 100 Brands.

“I advise upcoming designers to never stop dreaming big; this is our time to shine and create the unexpected. There’s space for everyone.”

Marvelous offers three tips for aspiring fashion content creators seeking to be authentic: “Don’t try to copy other creators; it’s good to follow trends, but only when it suits your content and your personality. Consistency is key. Pick the schedule that suits you and make sure to stick to it.”

 


Thriving gardens: Growing and nurturing plants without destroying soil

Thriving gardens: Growing and nurturing plants without destroying soil
Updated 13 April 2024
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Thriving gardens: Growing and nurturing plants without destroying soil

Thriving gardens: Growing and nurturing plants without destroying soil
  • The foundation of a successful garden is soil health
  • It is critical to take care of the soil before planting seeds by creating organic elements in the soil rather than relying on chemical or synthetic fertilizers

RIYADH: Caring for plants at home reduces stress and increases satisfaction. Gardening allows people to connect with nature and enjoy the beauty of their home garden.
However, it is important to use sustainable methods to ensure that plants are healthy, and the environment is protected from damage. Soil preservation and care are therefore very important for sustainable gardening.
The foundation of a successful garden is soil health. It is critical to take care of the soil before planting seeds by creating organic elements in the soil rather than relying on chemical or synthetic fertilizers.
Compost food scraps, garden waste and other organic products to improve soil fertility will provide nutrients to plants, increasing microbial activity and boosting the health of the soil.
“Synthetic fertilizers aren’t used in the Kingdom. It is rare. Most people use organic products such as animal waste mixed with food waste,” said Haitham Sharbaji, an agricultural technician who works in Riyadh.
Sharbaji, who operates his own nursery, explained how different plants require specific techniques.
When asked about examples of plants that are grown in hot, dry weather like in Saudi Arabia, he mentioned trees including poinciana, racosperma and oleander. According to Sharbaji, these species are especially suitable for the weather in Riyadh.
He highlighted the importance of planting trees in healthy soil.
“Firstly, the soil must be healthy and suitable for the type of plant you want to grow. For example, there are kinds of soil for indoor plants and others for outdoor plants,” Sharbaji said.
“Lighting is also important, as each plant differs in terms of its need for lighting.”
Another method gardeners can use to prevent soil depletion is controlling the rotation of plants. Rotating plants grown in different areas of a garden helps reduce diseases and pests, and prevents nutrient deficiencies.
In addition to changing the position of the plant, covering it with a layer of organic mulch like wood chips or leaves helps maintain soil health. This technique captures moisture as well as moderates the temperature of the soil, which in turn improves the structure of the soil. Over time, it enriches the soil with beneficial organisms.
Chemical pesticides are another tool to avoid or reduce, as they can harm beneficial insects, damage organisms in the soil and disrupt the garden’s ecosystem. Natural pest control methods like introducing insects such as ladybugs and lacewings are a useful alternative.
Water in Saudi Arabia is a precious resource for growing any plant, and using it efficiently is vital. An optimal way to regulate watering plants is to install drip irrigation systems to control the amount of water that is used and deliver it directly to the roots.
People should be mindful of the hot climate in the Kingdom, which may speed up the evaporation of water. Therefore, watering the garden late in the afternoon or evening hours reduces water loss because of low temperatures.
“Water is the biggest enemy for indoor plant soil. The soil that is prepared for indoor plants doesn’t need too much water because it can create toxic fungi,” said Sharbaji.
He recommends watering indoor plants according to room temperatures. Generally speaking, a person can water an indoor plant every 15 to 20 days, he added.
Excessive use of synthetic fertilizers can lead to nutrient imbalance and environmental pollution. It is best to test soil regularly to detect any signs of nutrient deficiencies such as decolorization of leaves or irregular shapes.
Synthetic fertilizers can be useful but only when necessary, and they must be used wisely. This ensures the plant receives the nutrients it needs while minimizing the risk of biomagnification — the increase in concentration of a substance in the tissues of organisms at successively higher levels in a food chain.
By practicing sustainable gardening practices, people can grow and protect their gardens while maintaining soil health. Healthy soil preparation, mulching and natural pest control methods are some examples of healthy gardening, keeping in mind that a thriving garden starts with the soil.


Saudi Arabia arrests 20,667 illegals in one week

Saudi police have arrested hundreds of illegals breaching country’s law. (SPA)
Saudi police have arrested hundreds of illegals breaching country’s law. (SPA)
Updated 13 April 2024
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Saudi Arabia arrests 20,667 illegals in one week

Saudi police have arrested hundreds of illegals breaching country’s law. (SPA)
  • The report showed that among the 959 people arrested for trying to enter the Kingdom illegally, 53 percent were Ethiopian, 44 percent Yemeni, and 3 percent were of other nationalities

RIYADH: Saudi authorities arrested 20,667 people in one week for breaching residency, work and border security regulations, the Saudi Press Agency reported on Saturday.

According to an official report, a total of 14,805 people were arrested for violations of residency laws, while 3,860 were held over illegal border crossing attempts, and a further 2,002 for labor-related issues.

The report showed that among the 959 people arrested for trying to enter the Kingdom illegally, 53 percent were Ethiopian, 44 percent Yemeni, and 3 percent were of other nationalities.

A further 58 people were caught trying to cross into neighboring countries, and nine were held for involvement in transporting and harboring violators.

The Saudi Ministry of Interior said that anyone found to be facilitating illegal entry to the Kingdom, including providing transportation and shelter, could face imprisonment for a maximum of 15 years, a fine of up to SR1 million ($260,000), as well as confiscation of vehicles and property.

Suspected violations can be reported on the toll-free number 911 in the Makkah and Riyadh regions, and 999 or 996 in other regions of the Kingdom.