The Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission [SACM] outside of Washington D.C., is the nucleus for the nearly 100,000 Saudi students pursuing studies in the United States. Located in the leafy suburb of Fairfax, Virginia, SACM supports students academically, financially and socially. One aspect of the social programs that are offered is encouraging students from the Kingdom to do something that is almost second nature to Americans: volunteering.
Much of the volunteer work the Saudi students engage in is at a grass roots level in the towns or cities they are studying in. Volunteering can include something as simple as helping feed poor people in a food bank, or sometimes helping promote Saudi culture, traditions and heritage. One Saudi student club studying in Ohio even took sweets to a police station to thank the precinct for looking after them.
Given the huge number of students from the Kingdom studying all across the United States, it should come as no surprise that there are nearly 300 clubs for Saudi students to be part of. The tradition started more than 50 years ago, when the scholarship aboard program began, and activities were limited to social networking at dinners, or farewell to gradates. But the objectives of the clubs have all changed today, with them becoming a ‘must see’ for many high ranking officials from Saudi Arabia when they visit the United States. Since their inception 50 years ago, the clubs missions now include active community engagement with Americans, many of whom may not have met someone from Saudi Arabia. These clubs have evolved with close collaboration not just with the SACM, but also with cultural attaches in cities such as Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston. It has been important to ensure the safety of students, while at the same time complying with university regulations.
One such club is the organization “Us to US,” which is an affiliate of SACM. “Us to US,” works daily at finding projects or people which need help in the cities or town where the universities are located.
Since it was founded over 3 years ago, students from the Kingdom have volunteered in every single of the 50 states.
“Us to US,” was the perfect place for Saleh Alsodmi of Jeddah to lend his time to, as he told the Saudi Gazette. “I first heard about volunteering when I was 10. My teacher told me about it and I never forgot about it. I gave food to the poor, and I cleaned the mosque. I loved to volunteer and I have never stopped no matter where I lived.”
As an organization “Us to US,” looks for positive change through embracing an effective and positive personality. The all run student-based organization is dedicated to empowering students by achieving a positive social impact in their local societies in the United States. It has had a huge appeal for Saleh.
Currently studying financial management at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, Saleh just spent the past three years as president of the Saudi student club at his campus. This year he is advising 100 other Saudi club presidents about successfully engaging in local communities.
Meeting Americans they are helping has been exceptionally interesting for Saleh. It has also helped achieve the goals of educating people more about the history and culture of Saudi Arabia.
Many of the Americans are very keen to learn more about the Kingdom. In his interview with the Saudi Gazette, Saleh recalled, “They wanted to know about Makkah. Some wanted to know why we are different religion from them. I told them Islam is about giving back, and we give back to everyone. Not just to Muslims.”
Saleh also cooked traditional food from Saudi Arabia for the Americans in his community to try. More used to eating a burger and fries, many of the people he hass met in Oklahoma, are now familiar with dishes like Kapsa and chicken with rice. Saleh is happy as, “Now they want to learn more about our food and our culture.”
While his volunteer work has had Saleh interact with average Americans, he is also very grateful that having a free education from King Abdullah Scholarship Program has enabled him to meet people from other countries too.
Saying that volunteering “is in my blood,” Saleh is grateful that he has also seen how organized and diverse volunteering is in the United States. Now he is looking ahead to improve the current volunteering structure in Saudi Arabia. “I want to make it a more community based or fixed system. I hope to tighten the volunteer work from east to west and north to south, so they work together in one system. We really need to work on the development of a culture of volunteerism.”
Given there are over 100,000 students from the Kingdom studying in US, and volunteering becoming such an important part of their curriculum there, it would seem it won’t be long before Saudi Arabia will be benefiting from lots of goodwill and talented people who want nothing more than to help and donate their time once they return home too.