Do good by doing what you do best

Leonard Stall, the editor of the book “How to Do Good,” introduces the speakers at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature in Dubai, March 8, 2018. (Alwud Obaid)

By Alwud Obaid

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – The 2019 Emirates Airline Festival of Literature is just around the corner. The festival will be held March 1-9 at the InterContinental Hotel in Dubai Festival City under the patronage of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the vice president and prime minister of the UAE and the ruler of Dubai.

During last year’s festival on March 8, 2018, students of Zayed University witnessed three incredible speakers share their inspiring stories. The speakers were a Malian retired professional footballer Frederic Kanoute, a Syrian violinist Mariela Shaker, and a Sudanese poet Emtithal Mahmoud. Kanoute authored a chapter in a book “How to Do Good,” which is reviewed by the Zajel writer Fatma Albastaki here. Shaker and Mahmoud participated in a tour promoting the book, and at the festival the trio talked about doing good by doing what you do best.

The Musician

Photo by Alwud Obaid

Mariela Shaker is a talented violinist and a refugee from Syria. Shaker spoke about her difficult life while in Syria during the war, and how her music motivated her to chase her dreams. She witnessed the explosion of the University of Aleppo in January 2013, where several of her friends were killed. However, the terror that she went through did not end there; she recalled hearing constant sounds of ambulances and children crying for their mothers. The drive from her music pushed her to teach violin at the Arabic Institute of Music in Aleppo and to apply for different universities around the world to further expand her knowledge in music.

“Death did not scare me but watching my dreams fading away did,” Shaker said.

She risked her life by going out of her house when missiles and aircraft were flying over her head. Luckily, she was able to escape and got a scholarship at Monmouth College in the U.S. However, after completing her music scholarship she realized she was unable to go back to her war-torn home country. Shaker then decided to dedicate herself and use her musical talents to raise awareness of the predicament of the Syrian people. Shaker has been supporting the work of the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR. She was honoured at the White House and named Champion of the Change for World Refugees by the U.S. President Barack Obama in 2015.

The Poet

Photo by Alwud Obaid

Emtithal “Emi” Mahmoud is a refugee from Sudan who was named one of BBC’s 100 most influential women. Mahmoud won the 2015 Individual World Poetry Slam Championship. Using her poetry and her amazing people skills she was able rekindle hope and bring people together from all sides to encourage dialogue and thousands joined her on the way.

One of her many achievements include recently completing a 1,000-km walk across Sudan to demonstrate for peace and freedom in a troubled country. “If we can walk together, we can work together,” Mahmoud said.

Using her astonishing poetry skills, Mahmoud was able to share the story of her struggles while living in her home town Darfur. Her strong determination helped her move from a small school in Darfur, where sometimes they would have to learn under a tree, to attending Yale University, one the America’s private Ivy League universities. She turned her painful experience in Darfur into poetry.

Both Mahmoud and Shaker were able to transform the difficulties from their experiences in living in a country where there is war.

The Footballer

Photo by Alwud Obaid

Frédéric Oumar Kanouté is a retired professional footballer who established the Kanouté Foundation to help the children in Mali, especially orphans. Kanouté spoke about how he discovered he wanted to give back to the community after reaching his highest peak of success in football. Starting in his father home land of Malie established Children’s Village, that includes schools and mosques. His speech mainly focused on how we should change internally to become a better person in order to do good, meaning without helping ourselves first we cannot help others. There are many journeys and experiences that shape a person, and they may include education or environment.

“Education, environment and experience have a significant impact in shaping who we are and they largely contribute in finding out what we want to do in life and who we want to become,” Kanouté said.

Contributing and giving back to the community can be a difficult job. But giving back need not be over-whelming as Kanouté suggests that ultimately, “We all have a role to play regardless of the size of our input.”

About the author: Alwud Obaid is a contributing writer at Zajel. She is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in International Studies with the concentration in Political Economy and Development at the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Zayed University in Dubai. She is also pursuing a minor in Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Alwud is a member of Career Advocate Leaders at ZU and a member of ZU’s team at the annual session of the American University in Sharjah Model United Nations.

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About the Author

This story was edited by Yulia Medvedeva, an assistant professor in the College of Communication and Media Sciences at Zayed University in Dubai.


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