I recently returned to Saudi Arabia for the fourth time in two years, and I have additional trips planned for November and February. With all the crazy activities by extremist, and the conflicts amongst nations in the Middle East, I am asked frequently if I feel safe there. The answer is an unequivocal YES.
Though I have traveled to Dubai, Oman and Qatar in the past decade, most of my time recently has been spent in the city of Riyadh. This Capital City of Saudi Arabia is in the middle of the Kingdom and showcases some wonderful architecture. It has all of the personality of every large city I have been fortunate to visit with arts, entertainment, historical landmarks, shopping, big buildings, crowds, traffic jams and hard working people dreaming and building a brighter future for themselves. It is a bustling community with a rich culture, wildly different than ours in many ways, yet strikingly similar in a lot of their values. Though our cultural similarities are overshadowed by the difference in gender rights. And that is a whole other blog post.
The people I have worked with in Saudi Arabia, both men and women, have been amazingly gracious and welcoming. They work hard to make you feel comfortable, welcomed and safe. There is an appreciated focus on safety with very tight security. Entering their country security is very much like ours. In the international hotel in which I stay they have a security check of your vehicle when you enter, and an airport style metal detector when you enter the building. Now we don’t see metal detectors at hotels here yet, but I did walk through one just this past week in two different schools in Oklahoma. When meeting at the main offices of the King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Public Education Development Project I usually walk, which is about a half mile from my hotel, and I have not once felt intimidated, concerned or even out of place.
King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz
Now as for working with Saudis, there are a lot of communication differences making progress slow and frustrating at times. All the people I work with speak English, but I have to admit that I do not understand everything they are saying, and I absolutely understand no Arabic. It took me a while to realize they do not understand all of my English either, though they are hesitant to admit so, and most likely feel it would be rude to tell me as much. But we all try very hard to communicate and we all are learning every time we’re together. I did purchase Rosetta Stone, but I can only say boy, girl, dog and cat so far. And Rosetta doesn’t like my accent at all.
King Abdulla wishes one of his legacies to be a reformed educational system where all the children of Saudi Arabia are educated at a high level from kindergarten through college. Dr. Mohammed Al-Zaghib is the CEO of the project and leads an ambitious team with great passion and a huge goal. I certainly would not bet against this group, and am thrilled Solution Tree has been invited to play a role in their success.
Not surprising, the people of Saudi Arabia want the same things for their children as we do for ours. To have them educated, safe, successful and happy. They are absolutely no different than any other caring parent, and the people of King Abdulla’s project are no different than any other caring educator wanting to make a difference in the lives of their students. But it is easy to see why this country is cautious to work with Western Companies. So many outside companies look at the massive wealth of this nation and attempt to come in, make a quick hit, cash in and dash out. They don’t really want to help, they want to prosper themselves, and only themselves. That is just plain wrong, especially in K-12 education were the stakes are way to important. At Solution Tree we really want to make a difference in the world, and it is our belief that the best way to bring about global change is through education. And that is why we do what we do.