If you have lived in the Arabian Gulf as an expat there are several common questions people will ask you when you’re home or traveling. One of the most persistent ones is: “How can you live there? What about the human rights violations?”
Over the last ten years, I’ve been mulling over the latent social superiority in this question. This post will be the first of a series in presenting a few answers.
For now, let me start with yesterday. A group of volunteers, moms and their children, visited a preparatory program for out of school children.
Tucked into three portacabins, these children are the first in their families to get any formal schooling. They live in the neighborhood behind mine. The passion to provide education for these children is driven by a group of community members and charitable donations that funds the teachers, the buses, and supplies.
My premise was simple: our kids had a day off school. We would use the morning to create an hour and half of art, reading, and fun activities for kids in program, age 4-7, roughly the same age as ours.
As the morning came closer, everything went wrong: I couldn’t find the right kind of paint to use on jars, the main art activity we had planned. The big book I had chosen for the main reading couldn’t be photocopied because, well, the extra large pages, great for students to crowd around, were too big.
I was nervous everything would flop and the program would be over before it began.
We met the children and their teachers.
They were divided into two rooms. We split ourselves up, handing out paints, paintbrushes, and foam hands. And they painted.
Our little helpers passed out supplies, turned pages, took turns demonstrating Duck Duck Goose and Abdullah Says.
Sweat was beading on our faces as we took the group outside to make the use of more space. My son asked to go home. At snack time, discarded covers of straws from juice boxes floated in the breeze. We, who had come to do good, were the cause of littering on school grounds.
The morning wasn’t technically perfect. But it was the establishment of connections, between our kids and their kids. Between our volunteers and the teachers.
Between my mind and the idea that those who need the most help are often right next to us.
When we got home, we talked to our kids about their observations. The younger ones scattered off to play. The older ones ruminated on what it would be like to attend school in a language you don’t speak.
We adults sat with the reality that many of these types of communities exist in our home communities, far from the relative comfort of the suburbs.
Our next visit is scheduled for Thanksgiving morning, the next day our kids don’t have school. Another great connection: volunteering as a way of giving thanks.