Saudi Arabia’s hackathons seek solutions to pilgrimage challenges

This year in April, to enrich the cultural and religious experience of pilgrims, Umm Al-Qura University and the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah conducted the Historic and Enrichment Sites Hackathon. (Supplied)
This year in April, to enrich the cultural and religious experience of pilgrims, Umm Al-Qura University and the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah conducted the Historic and Enrichment Sites Hackathon. (Supplied)
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Updated 15 June 2024
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Saudi Arabia’s hackathons seek solutions to pilgrimage challenges

Saudi Arabia’s hackathons seek solutions to pilgrimage challenges
  • Dania Moayad, an Iraqi pilgrim who performed Hajj in 2021, told Arab News: “Using the Eatmarna application made my pilgrimage journey incredibly smooth and efficient

JEDDAH: Every year, more than 2 million people visit Saudi Arabia to perform the sacred ritual of Hajj, leading to challenges in transportation, crowd management and communication. In response, Saudi Arabia has leveraged hackathons and adopted innovative technological solutions to tackle these obstacles.

A hackathon is a collaborative event, typically a multi-day challenge, in which programmers, designers and project managers work intensively on software projects.




Participants including Saudi women attend a hackathon in Jeddah on August 1, 2018, prior to the start of the annual Hajj pilgrimage in the holy city of Makkah. (AFP file photo)

These events might focus on a variety of topics, such as developing new software, devising inventive solutions to specific difficulties or exploring cutting-edge technologies. Participants form teams to brainstorm ideas, build prototypes and create working software or hardware projects within a set time window.

Hackathons are commonly organized to foster creativity, innovation and teamwork, often leading to the creation of new products, services or tools.




The first-place team of the Hajj and Umrah Challenge won SR50,0000 ($13000) for their creative application titled: Makkah Story in 2023. (Supplied)

In 2018, Jeddah hosted Hajj Hackathon, the largest hackathon in the Middle East with thousands of developers and 18,000 enthusiasts participating. Organized by the Saudi Federation for Cyber Security, Programming and Drones, the event set a Guinness World Record for the largest number of participants.

The first Hajj Hackathon in the region attracted top programmers to innovate technical solutions, improving pilgrims’ experience and fostering profitable projects. It reflects Saudi Arabia’s commitment to innovation, aiming for regional and global tech leadership, supporting young talents and achieving Vision 2030 goals.

FASTFACTS

• The Historic and Enrichment Sites Hackathon in April this year attracted about 700 participants from 15 cities across the Kingdom, with a panel of 12 judges, 16 trainers and 10 guides overseeing the innovative projects.

• The event included 20 training courses, six educational trips, 10 lectures and 12 guidance sessions.

Steve Wozniak, Apple co-founder, was appointed as the Saudi TechHub platform ambassador at the time.




Women attend a hackathon in Jeddah on July 31, 2018, prior to the start of the annual Hajj pilgrimage in the holy city of Makkah. (AFP file photo)

In the first season of the Hajj Hackathon, the Turjuman app achieved first place, winning the coveted SR1 million ($266,000) prize pot. Developed by a group of Saudi women, the app offers translation of signs and guide boards in Makkah and the holy sites without the use of the Internet. The Hajj Wallet app took second place, winning SR500,000, and the Ru’ya app came third, winning SR350,000.

Turjuman assists pilgrims in their own languages, created by five Saudi women united by a common goal: Samaher Al-Hadhli, Raghda Qadhi, Bayan Al-Ghamdi, Rawan Al-Matrafi and Reham Marghalani.

By the next Hajj season in 2019, Turjuman became a helpful tool supporting 10 languages — Indonesian, Malay, Filipino, Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, French, Russian, Turkish and English — and featuring more than 400 signboards distributed across Mina, Muzdalifa, Arafat and the Grand Mosque.




People attend a hackathon in Jeddah on July 31, 2018, prior to the start of the annual Hajj pilgrimage in the holy city of Mecca. (AFP file photo)

During the challenging years of 2020 and 2021, the Kingdom leaned heavily on modern technologies, especially facing the challenge of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

The 2020 Hajj season stood out due to the government’s extensive measures to prioritize pilgrim safety and curb the spread of the virus. Pilgrim numbers were significantly reduced and restricted to individuals within the Kingdom.

The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah introduced the Eatmarna application during this critical period. The application simplified Umrah and visitation procedures over two years, where it issued 43,432,985 Umrah permits. Drawing users from 213 nationalities, it also facilitated 6,363,288 permits for prayer in the Rawdah Sharifah at the Prophet’s Mosque.

In 2022, Eatmarna was replaced by the Nusuk, which eased the process for pilgrims worldwide, simplified electronic visa procedures and enhanced pilgrims’ experiences. Nusuk remains the primary application for these purposes.

The effects of technological innovations on the cultural and spiritual aspects of the Hajj refer to how new technologies developed during these hackathons impact the experience of pilgrims. These innovations can enhance various aspects of the Hajj journey, such as improving safety, providing better access to information and facilitating smoother logistics.

Dania Moayad, an Iraqi pilgrim who performed Hajj in 2021, told Arab News: “Using the Eatmarna application made my pilgrimage journey incredibly smooth and efficient. It provided real-time updates, guidance and essential information that enhanced my overall experience.”

Asia Ahmad, a pilgrim from Sudan who performed Hajj in 2021, said: “Eatmarna revolutionized the way I performed my pilgrimage. It simplified complex procedures, helped me navigate crowded areas, and ensured I didn’t miss any important rituals. Truly a modern marvel for pilgrims.”

As COVID-19 restrictions eased and pilgrims returned to full capacity to perform their rituals by 2022, the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah, in collaboration with the Guests of God Service Program, a part of Saudi Vision 2030, launched the second Hajj Hackathon, rebranded as the “Hajj and Umrah Challenge” initiative. This event attracted 1,500 participants and aimed to gather and implement creative ideas to enhance the pilgrim experience through innovative solutions.

The goal was to enable innovators and entrepreneurs to develop technological solutions to improve services for pilgrims. The challenge gathered 40 participants, both in-person and remotely, across six tracks: crowd management, waste management, housing, catering, health, and transportation.

Submissions were narrowed down to 13 by a jury of ministry and tech experts, then to 10 final ideas, with prizes totaling about SR150,000.

Participants attended introductory meetings and workshops to help solve key challenges. The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah adopted the top five winning entries and turned them into business accelerators for real-world implementation.

The Ma’alam team from the Technical College for Girls in Makkah won first place in the challenge. Their application guided pilgrims to the holy sites, with plans to expand services to guide tourists, citizens and residents to the Kingdom’s prominent landmarks.

The app introduces pilgrims to historical landmarks by gathering information, converting it into text, recording it as audio and mapping it to coordinates. Pilgrims receive voice notifications about landmarks based on their location, with options for language and voice commentators.

The second Hajj and Umrah Challenge was held in 2023 during the Hajj and Umra Expo, with 300 teams from around the world participating. This challenge aimed to develop technical projects to serve pilgrims, bringing together programmers and innovators to create solutions for the challenges facing the Hajj and Umrah systems.

The focus was on providing innovative solutions in six tracks: providing information related to the pilgrimage journey, food and hospitality, services for people with disabilities, waste recycling, baggage transportation, and guiding the lost.

The first stage involved about 800 contestants, with 11 teams qualifying for the final stage, from which five winning teams were selected for their innovative ideas. The Makkah Story application won the first-place prize pot of SR50,0000.

Raghad Al-Shareef, the leader of the team consisting of three participants and a graduate of business administration from Umm Al-Qura University in Makkah, told Arab News: “Makkah Story application focuses on highlighting Makkah’s archaeological landmarks and historical stories, as well as providing tourist guidance for the pilgrim and visitor to offer them an enriching experience.”

“We worked day and night over four days … winning feels indescribably amazing,” she said.

The second-placed team, Mataie, won the SR40,000 prize, while the third-placed team, Ehtiwa, which translates to “contain,” received the SR30,000 award.

The team leader, Jumana Al-Wafi, 22, also from Umm Al-Qura University, told Arab News: “Our idea is about the path of waste accumulation in the holy sites. We came up with the idea of relying on the Haram cameras to support artificial intelligence by detecting waste on the streets or containers by notifying the competent authorities that area A has an 80 percent waste piling, and that action should be taken.”

This year in April, aiming at enriching the cultural and religious experience of pilgrims, Umm Al-Qura University and the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah conducted the Historic and Enrichment Sites Hackathon, a groundbreaking event that attracted about 700 participants from 15 cities across the Kingdom, with a panel of 12 judges, 16 trainers and 10 guides overseeing the innovative projects.

The event, which included 20 training courses, six educational trips, 10 lectures and 12 guidance sessions, showcased cutting-edge solutions to enhance the pilgrimage experience.

The winning projects were announced, with the Guide project clinching the top spot for its innovative approach. The “Development of Al-Dira Mosque” project secured second place, while Maalim claimed third in the design and creative thinking category.

In the enrichment, marketing and awareness track, Jawlaty emerged as the winner, followed by Trahalkom in second place and Wasl in third.

In the digitization of the historical heritage category, Ma’alem took the lead, with Nafezat Al-Haramain and DMaps securing second and third place respectively.

The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah emphasized the importance of the challenge in developing the Kingdom’s youth’s digital capabilities by employing their capabilities and relying on their promising talents.    

 

 


KSrelief continues medical projects in Jordan and Somalia

KSrelief continues medical projects in Jordan and Somalia
Updated 15 July 2024
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KSrelief continues medical projects in Jordan and Somalia

KSrelief continues medical projects in Jordan and Somalia

RIYADH: Saudi aid agency KSrelief continued its humanitarian aid projects in Jordan and Somalia, reported state news agency SPA on Sunday.
In Jordan, the aid agency provided medical services to 2,271 patients living in Zaatari camp for Syrian refugees. The services ranged from general medicine for adults and children to dental care and vaccinations.
In Somalia, the kidney dialysis center at Banadir Hospital in Mogadishu, supported by the aid agency, served 348 patients last month.
A total of 163 dialysis patients underwent 1,051 scheduled sessions and 12 emergency sessions.
These initiatives are part of the Kingdom’s effort to alleviate suffering to those in need.


Saudi ambassador presents credentials to Egypt’s president

Saleh bin Eid Al-Hosseini presents his credentials as Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Egypt. (SPA)
Saleh bin Eid Al-Hosseini presents his credentials as Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Egypt. (SPA)
Updated 15 July 2024
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Saudi ambassador presents credentials to Egypt’s president

Saleh bin Eid Al-Hosseini presents his credentials as Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Egypt. (SPA)
  • Al-Husseini was warmly welcomed by El-Sisi and wished him well in his role as ambassador

CAIRO: Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Egypt Saleh bin Eid Al-Hosseini presented his credentials to President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi in Cairo on Sunday, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

The ambassador conveyed the greetings of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and their wishes for continued progress and prosperity for the Egyptian people.

Al-Husseini was warmly welcomed by El-Sisi and wished him well in his role as ambassador.

El-Sisi asked the ambassador to extend his greetings to King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, wishing them continued prosperity and progress.

 


Zest for life: Disabled Saudi artist finds expression in his work

Rakan Kurdi’s paintings have won acclaim from across the country and abroad. (Supplied)
Rakan Kurdi’s paintings have won acclaim from across the country and abroad. (Supplied)
Updated 14 July 2024
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Zest for life: Disabled Saudi artist finds expression in his work

Rakan Kurdi’s paintings have won acclaim from across the country and abroad. (Supplied)
  • Saudi Rakan Kurdi will not let his genetic condition affect his desire to create

JEDDAH: Meet Rakan Kurdi, a Saudi artist who was born with spinal muscular atrophy and is determined to navigate life, and explore art, on his own terms.

Kurdi’s journey with paints and brushes began at a young age when he joined the Children with Disability Association, a specialized school for people with disabilities in Jeddah.

He is now one of the coastal city’s most popular artists, selling works and winning many prizes.

Rakan Kurdi’s portraits of Saudi royals has earned him viral recognition on social media. (Supplied)

A graphic designer and motivational speaker in addition to his art, Kurdi spoke to Arab News about his life.

An enthusiast from childhood, he was encouraged by his teacher’s words when she told him at the age of 8: “I can see an artist in you. You must work on your talent, learn more at home and keep practicing to develop your skills.”

Speaking about the challenges he faced in school, he said: “My parents decided to enroll me in a regular school in order to associate with regular kids. Unfortunately it did not work right for me because kids at school bullied me and were making fun of me all the time. That’s why I couldn’t pursue my studies.

I am an artist; that’s how I see myself. I don’t want people to like my paintings because of my physical condition.

Rakan Kurdi, Saudi artist

“My greatest strength and source of motivation through all this has been my parents. They never let me feel that I lacked anything.”

After leaving school after the fifth grade, Kurdi dedicated himself to his love for painting, eventually realizing that it was his true calling.

Working from his studio, Kurdi is well on his way to becoming a big name in the region’s art world. (Supplied)

Working from his studio, Kurdi is well on his way to becoming a big name in the region’s art world.

But creating artwork is no easy task for the 32-year-old, who was born with a neuromuscular genetic disorder that left him paralyzed.

However, it has not dampened his creativity. Kurdi has been painting since the age of 8, with his works being showcased in local group exhibitions.

Rakan Kurdi, Saudi artist

He said: “I am an artist; that’s how I see myself. I don’t want people to like my paintings because of my physical condition. I would like to know that my work is self-standing and impressive, regardless of the capabilities of its artist.”

Kurdi continues to live life with an ever-present smile, despite his challenges.

He added: “I have never thought my disability was an obstacle to my dream. Since I stopped going to school, I (have) just continued doing art, participated in various local exhibitions, started to sell my portraits nationally and internationally, and most importantly got married. I am so happy with my life.”

Portraits of King Salman, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the late King Faisal bin Abdulaziz, Sheikh Zayed, celebrated Saudi singer Mohammed Abdo, and the late Talal Maddah helped to get Kurdi noticed.

He admits that the biggest project of his career was creating 80 by 110 cm oil paintings of the king and crown prince. His subsequent post on social media received more than 1 million views in less than 19 hours.

He said: “Definitely they are my most expensive and most important portraits.

“I also dedicated a special portrait to Prince Turki bin Salman, who really liked my work and decided to hang it on the wall of the Royal Palace in Jeddah.”

Kurdi’s paintings have won acclaim from across the country and abroad, with commissions ranging from about SR10,000 ($2,666) to SR250,000, depending on the size of the work.

Inspired by the work of Leonardo da Vinci, he said: “We both belong to the same school of art.

“Despite my disability, it’s not difficult to make a realistic painting.”

Social media has proved an important tool to promote his work. He has about 500,000 followers across Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat, and says he receives his orders via the platforms.

With many projects in the pipeline, Kurdi’s hands are full.

He is also continuing his work as a motivational speaker, and added: “(I) just want to inspire everyone to identify and follow their dreams, no matter the obstacles.”

Now that his work has earned recognition in the Kingdom and other Gulf Cooperation Council states, Kurdi hopes to showcase his work in London or Paris.

“It is my dream to showcase my work internationally,” he said.

 

 


Women in Tabuk eager to take the reins

Women in Tabuk eager to take the reins
Updated 14 July 2024
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Women in Tabuk eager to take the reins

Women in Tabuk eager to take the reins
  • Al-Talbi is encouraging more women to embrace equestrianism, highlighting benefits that extend beyond physical health and enhance psychological and mental well-being

RIYADH: With the resurgence of equestrian sports in the Kingdom, Saudi women in Tabuk are reconnecting with their heritage and taking the reins with skill and passion.

In a recent interview, equestrian Arwa Al-Talbi spoke to the Saudi Press Agency about the beginnings of her journey into the world of horses.

“My relationship with horses began five years ago when I read about the psychological philosophy of equestrianism, which inspired me to learn to ride,” Al-Talbi said

Saudi Vision 2030 has ushered in a new era for women’s sports, enabling them to pursue various sports, with equestrianism a standout. (SPA)

She said that equestrianism is not just a physical activity, and that there is a spiritual and mental connection inherent in one of the oldest sports known to humanity.

“My journey into the world of horses started thanks to God and the wise leadership’s support for equestrianism and the empowerment of women in various sports,” Al-Talbi added. Her love for horses and skill as a horse rider has led to her becoming an accomplished show jumper and free rider.

She is learning the sport of tent pegging, which is a “test of a rider’s skills due to its historical ties to ancient warfare.”

FASTFACTS

• The Tabuk region is currently hosting a foundation training course for the sport of preliminary tent pegging, organized by the Saudi Equestrian Federation.

• The 15-day course, held at the Al-Thunayanh stable, has attracted about 30 riders of various ages, both male and female.

Al-Talbi is encouraging more women to embrace equestrianism, highlighting benefits that extend beyond physical health and enhance psychological and mental well-being.

Another female rider, Ohoud Al-Majzoub, said her deep connection with horses is rooted in her pride in her Arab identity and a lifelong passion that began in childhood. She followed her dream of becoming an equestrian by training to acquire all the necessary skills.

Now she excels not only in free riding but also in show jumping, a discipline that demands navigating a series of obstacles, from simple vertical heights to intricate courses. Her journey is testament to her unique and distinctive sporting creativity.

In the SPA report, equestrians Raghad Mahmoud and Heba Al-Fares said that their childhood dreams of horse riding were once just hopes, because of the lack of clubs. However, Saudi Vision 2030 has ushered in a new era for women’s sports, enabling them to pursue various sports, with equestrianism a standout.

They have since learned to ride and excel in show jumping and free riding and said the availability of such sports and the establishment of dedicated clubs will ignite the passion of many women, whether in equestrianism or other sports.

Noting the growing interest in equestrian sports among women in the Tabuk region, Nasser Al-Nasser, who owns stables in the area, confirmed to SPA that there is a year-round increase in demand for the sport.

Women’s interest in the sport led him to open a special track for women with a focus on show jumping and with female trainers on hand. He added that, despite its long history in the region, equestrianism is now seen as a modern sport that has captivated young men and women alike. In Saudi culture, he said, it symbolizes courage, pride, beauty, strength, heroism and authenticity.

The sport also enhances self-confidence, teaches patience and endurance, and provides numerous psychological and physical benefits to its enthusiasts, he added.

The Tabuk region is currently hosting a foundation training course for the sport of preliminary tent pegging, organized by the Saudi Equestrian Federation. The 15-day course, held at the Al-Thunayanh stable, has attracted about 30 riders of various ages, both male and female.

The training course aims to promote the sport in Saudi society and encourage its practice among horse riding enthusiasts regardless of gender, the SPA said in its report.

The course includes a theoretical part that educates participants on the key regulations and laws of tent pegging. The practical part focuses on training techniques and skills in using spears and swords in various approved competitions.

Participants who complete the training will be awarded certificates by the federation in collaboration with the Leaders Development Institute.

 


Masam 7 continues Saudi Arabia’s support of Yemeni people

Ousama Al-Gosaibi. (Supplied)
Ousama Al-Gosaibi. (Supplied)
Updated 14 July 2024
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Masam 7 continues Saudi Arabia’s support of Yemeni people

Ousama Al-Gosaibi. (Supplied)
  • Al-Gosaibi said the project’s work strategy was built on strong foundations after extensive studies of the nature of the threat posed by mines of all kinds, in addition to Yemen’s complex terrain that requires concerted human and material efforts

RIYADH: The head of Saudi Arabia’s Project Masam, Ousama Al-Gosaibi, thanked and praised the Saudi leadership for the help and support provided to Yemen to eliminate the threat of mines and explosives.

As the Saudi aid agency KSrelief extends Masam’s contract for landmine clearance in Yemen for the seventh consecutive year, Al-Gosaibi said in a press statement that the project succeeded during the past six years in carrying out its humanitarian operations on Yemeni territory, achieving high performance rates in all its field operations.

He said this is considered a significant achievement based on international standards, with the total clearances between the project’s first day and the end of last week totalled 450,919 mines, unexploded ordnance and explosive devices.

Al-Gosaibi said the project’s work strategy was built on strong foundations after extensive studies of the nature of the threat posed by mines of all kinds, in addition to Yemen’s complex terrain that requires concerted human and material efforts.

He added that the project also took into consideration the ongoing military operations, planting of mines, and booby-trapping of land and civilian installations with all kinds of explosives by the Houthi militias.

He said the seventh year will be a continuation of what the project started in mid-2018, with a focus on localized work by intensifying training and logistical support.