Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would be moving to a foreign country to live, let alone a country in the Middle East. Over the 2009 Christmas and New Year’s holidays, my husband Roger and I discussed what we wanted the next part of our life to be like. He thought that before retiring, he would like to do one more airport project but only if he could find something very interesting. I half-jokingly agreed that would be fine but could he try for an exotic location? As usual, Roger came through and soon we were headed to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. This blog is a recap of our "leap-of- faith" wanderings around the Middle East and beyond. We joyfully share these expat experiences.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

MALALA YOUSAFZAI is ONLY one of many children seeking education.

Note: I feel compelled to repost this blog in support of Malala's speech on July 12, 2013, before the UN advocating for education for all children. On her 16th birthday, having survived an attack by the Taliban, this young girl inspired an entire world with her worlds of compassion, courage and determination.  If you feel compelled to help a disadvantaged orphan child in the UAE receive an education please read the post below and contact me. 

The media is full of reports of the young Pakistani girl Malala Yousafzai who was shot by the Taliban for speaking out for the education of women. This inhumane act has sent reverberations around the world rightfully denouncing the Taliban, supporting Malala and everyone's right to education.

Malala is not alone in her quest for education. There are many more Malala’s in the Middle East and Asia who must struggle each day to obtain their education.

I was fortunate to meet such a young woman through the Al Ihsan Charity Association. While this young woman is lucky to live in the United Arab Emirates where education of women is encouraged, nevertheless she had to overcome many obstavles to obtain her education. 

Here is her story . . .    

The young woman sits quietly on the floor of the bare majilis of her mother’s home in Ajman looking like a small fragile black bird wrapped in her simple abaya and hijab. But it is the combination of her calm demeanor and the determined glint in her eyes that tell as much of her story as her words. In her soft educated voice this woman of Pakistan descent quietly recounts a journey of courage, perseverance and strength of character. It is the brave odyssey of one young woman’s drive to give meaning to her life.

Married at 19, Aisha (not her real name) separated a year later from her abusive and domineering husband. The divorce attorney wanted AED 8,000 and she had no funds. Her family takes her in but some family members are not in favor of her decision to seek a divorce. Undeterred, alone and with little support, she quietly continues on strengthened by her resolve to obtain her freedom.  

With only an 8th grade education, she tenaciously wrestled her way through the UAE legal system for four years.  Aisha never once questioned her decision to see it to the end.  Her only thought when she received the divorce decree was, “I want to learn about this law thing so I can help other girls.” 

Thanks to the “Back to School” scholarship program founded by two expat women, Aisha’s dream came true. In may 2012 she graduated from Ajman Law School. Aisha Is now studying with an attorney so she can qualify for the certificate that permits her to speak in court. She wants to make sure that no woman ever has to go to court alone and uneducated as she did.

Theresa Dommett, Beth Bohlen and
Diana Mullin distribute food
at Al Ihsan Charity
“Back to School” is one program operated by the Al Ihsan Charity Association.  Al Ihsan sponsors poor families with no supporter including widows, divorcees and deserted women and families unable to work. The centre also provides assistance to orphans through comprehensive care and additional scholarships.  These families are almost all expats who are unable to return home due to the lack of family or the dire political or economic situation of their home countries.

Volunteers Beth Lamont and Lynne Haboubi raise funds to pay the school fees for some of the orphaned and needy children who are part of the Al Ihsan Charity. Since 2004, contributions from individuals and organizations totaling more than AED 419,000 have made it possible for 125 children to stay in school and focus on obtaining an education.

This year, however, the late withdrawal of a major benefactor who had funded the majority of the costs for schooling of 100 children, the Back to School program has found itself able to pay for only 33 children to go back to school leaving 67 students with no funding for their education.  

“It is heart-breaking,” says Beth “to know that these children did so well in school last year and now cannot return. These are eager students and we all know that the path out of poverty is education. We only have to look at Aisha’s success to realize that this effort is making a difference.”

Israt and her son Haseeb
My husband Roger and I are so moved by the plight of these children that we are sponsoring a child. Haseeb is a 5th grade student in the Indian Private School. He is a polite boy and good student.  We calculate that our donation was equal to two nights out for dinner at our favorite restaurant; a small price to pay to help this bright young boy attain an education.

Ishrat with her son Haseeb

If you would be interested in helping one of these orphans please contact me or 056 350 4147. I would be happy to put you in touch with the Back to School program.

Postscripts . . .
Malala's speech on July 12 2013 before the UN

Here’s a sampling of other students who have the most urgent funding needs . . .

Saeed is a very strong student who pleaded for an opportunity to attend Ajman University to study engineering. He is now in his final year and has pledged that once he graduates and finds employment he will help children like himself with their school fees.  AED 20,031 ($5458) to fund the Fall semester of his final year.

Abbas, who anxiously waited for a number of years to enter school as he was in dire need of a kidney transplant, now is in the 5th grade at Oman Bin Khatab School. His father passed away four years ago. AED 4290 ($1168) for balance of 2012-2013 school year. 

Mohammed, Aisha’s cousin, is 19 but only in the 9th grade since he didn’t start school until four years ago. He attends Ajman Private School. AED 7590 ($1306) for balance of 2012-2013 school year.

Sharaz, who had to miss two years of school due to family finances after his father death, now stands ready to graduate from Sharjah Indian High School.  AED 4798 ($1306) for balance of 2012-2013 school year.

Nadar, who was the first student to received funds from the Back To School Program, sat out from school for four years due to his family’s dire financial situation.  He is now determined to attend the Association of Certified Charter Accountants program at the Infomatic Center. AED 4125 ($1123) for balance of 2012 classes. 

Kainath, who missed a couple of years of schooling due to her family’s financial situation, is now a straight “A” student and first in her class. AED 2475 ($664) to complete the 2012-2013 school year.

Abdul didn’t start school – first grade - until the age of 9 because of his father’s death and the family’s financial situation. Today he is eager to attend school and is doing quite well in his classes. AED 1,822 ($496) to complete the 2012-2013 school year.  

Suhail, who has lost both parents, dreams of becoming an engineer and helping his younger brothers and sisters go to school. AED 3190 ($869) to complete the 2012-2013 school year.

Samira, a very artistic and articulate 20-year old young lady, is in her last year, 12th grade.  Like her mother, her paintings are becoming a hit at the ARTE Souk where the Al Ihsan Charity Association Ladies’ Handicraft Cooperative sells the women’s work. Her father passed away several years ago. AED 9,350 ($2547)to complete the 2021-2013 school year.  

Al Ihsan Charity Association sponsors poor families with no supporter including widows, divorcees and deserted women and families unable to work. The centre also provides assistance to orphans through comprehensive care and scholarships. Their activities include daily distribution of food stuffs to over 600 families, monthly contributions for basic family needs for more than 1600 families and family sponsorship through financial help and support.

The Ihsan Charity Health Centre provides free treatment and initial examination to families registered with the centre as well as providing medical care for orphans.

In 2012, the charity was listed as #14 on Forbes list of the Most Transparent Charities in the Arab World.

For more information on the Al Ihsan Charity Association please call 056 200 2076.

Thank you Ishrat . . .  . Thank you for your personal assistance in gathering the information for this article.  The mother of two sons, Haseeb and Sharaz, Israt is truly an inspirational lady. This widow sought assistance from Al Ihsan when her husband took ill and subsequently died. Today she volunteers her time lending moral support and assistance helping other widows and single mothers to sustain their families. She was instrumental in setting up the Al Ihsan’s Ladies Handicraft Cooperative program and working with the Back to School program she is dedicated to seeing that every child receives their education


  1. So many inspiring stories of those yearning for something we here take for granted. I hope their dream of education is realized.

    1. The response has been most positive. We are hopeful that we can get all 67 children back in school.

  2. It's wonderful of you to support those less fortunate. I'm wondering how Indian and Pakistani people end up in the Emirates. I guess they originally came for work, like Mexicans to America, and find themselves without work and in bad straits. I thought most of the Gulf workforce came from Indonesia/Malaysia.
    I'm a US expat who's lived in Egypt for 20 yrs. I'm thinking of using Dubai as a setting and look forward to reading more of your blog. :-)

    1. Dubai would be an excellent setting for your next project. Never a dull moment here! Yes, Indians and Pakistans make up a large percentage of the workforce in Dubai and have does so even before the UAE became a country 41 years ago.

  3. Replies
    1. Glad you enjoyed. Are you visiting Dubai anytime soon?

  4. Many women are now being educated in Pakistan and I hope the government would really encourage this. It's a lot of work but this is a good start.

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