We're continuing our "Focus On Her" blog series throughout the month of March in honor of International Women's Day 2020. This series began as a conversation with women in Sitti's global community who have a unique voice and perspective on how education accessibility has impacted their lives. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are continuing this series with a new sense of urgency. This conversation now demands the questions: What is the importance of education accessibility in times of even greater marginalization and inequality? How can we "level the curve" in more ways than one?
Samar Alshorafa lives in Dubai. She is an entrepreneur and cofounder of She Is Arab, a dedicated speakers’ platform for Arab women with a mission to represent and develop Arab women speakers and thought leaders across every sector. Samar is also the granddaughter of Palestinian refugees. We're so grateful for her unique perspective on education accessibility in the Arab World.
What does education mean to you?
Education means everything to me. As a Palestinian growing up in a different country, education was imperative for me to be able to own my future. I am a grandchild of Palestinians who were forced to leave their homes in 1948 and had nothing with them but the clothes they were wearing, their children and their education. Ever since, Palestinians - myself included - have always considered education to be their most valuable asset; as it is the only portable asset they can carry with them wherever they go.
Having worked in the area of education development in the Arab World throughout my career, I was exposed to multiple challenges that face the region when it comes to both access and quality of education offered. More specifically, as a contributor to developing and previously managing one of the largest regional scholarship programs for higher education for Arab students, I also realized that as much as merit is important in driving decision-making for educational opportunities, there has to be empathy involved and room for inclusion of the vulnerable and less privileged populations. I’ve learned from an A-performer once that his grades were affected in his last/senior school year, due to shelling that took place in his neighborhood back home. Hence, he ended up not qualifying for studying his preferred subject or even succeeding in landing a scholarship. We must connect with people, listen to their stories with a level of openness to the different lives that they lead, and help give them access to opportunities whenever we can.
Explain a specific moment when access to education played a major role in your life.
When as a young girl in school, my siblings and I taught the woman working in our home as a domestic helper how to read and write in Arabic. A similar moment was when our apartment building’s guard set an appointment with me to help his daughter with her English language homework; which I gladly did. Those defining moments showed me how privileged I was as a child to have access to high quality education, and the difference I can make by sharing my own knowledge with others.
Was there a female teacher/educator in your life who is memorable to you? How did she help you as a student?
Mrs. Laila Khalifa, my high school principal. Her one-on-one talks with me truly empowered me and helped me become less timid than I used to be. Mrs. Khalifa was kind and caring, but in her own way. I cannot forget how she always proudly carried herself with true executive presence. She was a great role model. She demonstrated that it was okay to lead differently and be firm as a woman in a senior leadership position in school at the time. She basically broke many stereotypes I had in my mind as a young girl about what working women were supposed to be like!
How does your education influence your life today?
Education has simply put, helped me become who I am today. It allowed me to join the world of international development, travel the world and appreciate diversity and inclusion. It gave me the tools I needed to become an entrepreneur. It has also made me a better mother to my children and more appreciative of my family, friends and all the small perks in my life I hadn’t previously viewed as being privileges.
For me, education is a way of life that goes beyond earned degrees. It is also continuous knowledge acquisition, reading, learning and developing. I have just completed a course on “Data Analytics” in January of this year, which was an eye-opener to the changes that are coming our way in the not-too-distant future. The online world has completely disrupted the educational landscape, and I believe that the rapid EdTech progress we’re witnessing nowadays especially with the COVID-19 pandemic situation speeding up the process; will further break down barriers to access to education for all, hopefully with the less privileged populations being on top of that list rather than being left behind! There’s a lot of work to be done in that area.
What is one hope you have for the future of education for women and girls?
I hope that education becomes accessible to every girl and woman in the world! Kudos to Sitti for working to address this issue by availing scholarships to a full university education for three girls and women throughout Jordan’s refugee community, in partnership with Hopes for Women in Education. We should all play our part, within our own personal and professional capabilities.
Education matters to me because...
It enabled me to own my future! I am ever so grateful for my parents for offering me the best education they could avail.
I believe in Education because...
The world will only become a better place if we invest more in education. Education can end poverty, provide access to decent jobs, put food on the table, enhance moral and ethical values, help us achieve gender equality, break cultural and societal barriers and make our societies more tolerant and peaceful.
Thank you, Samar!
Photo credit for this post: Matias Valle for Sitti
Additional support: Khalid Al-Sabi for Sitti
This post is part of Sitti’s “Focus On Her” blog series. In the spirit of International Women’s Day and as part of the our IWD 2020 Initiative, we are sharing stories and images on the Sitti blog of women around the world whose access to education has helped shaped their lives. International Women’s Day is a global celebration of the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. It is also a call to action to accelerate women's equality. The more we understand how education impacts womens’ ability to succeed in their goals and ambitions, the more we can advocate for education equality regardless of gender. Learn more about how you can be an advocate for education equality with Sitti at: https://sittisoap.com/pages/international-womens-day-2020