An Interview with Arshiya-Nageen Ahmed: Reflections on Education

Nov 19, 2010 by

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Michael F. Shaughnessy – Mrs Ahmed was a UNESCO Delegate at the Qatar Foundation and UNESCO Second Annual Conference

 

Michael F. Shaughnessy
Eastern New Mexico University
Portales, New Mexico

 

Mrs Ahmed is an Educator, Advisor, and an Independent Education Researcher who, at present is helping out the flood victims of Pakistan with her husband.  She was on the Dean’s List during her undergraduate years and contributed her time to the “Country Guide – Middle East,” sections of the book called Teaching English Abroad.  She was later, a Graduate Assistant and then a Research Aide at the University of Windsor when she started taking interest in ESL students.  Hence she became a member of Qatar TESOL and even won in one of the Qatar TESOL’s teaching tip competitions for her topic “A Creative Way To Build A Story” (website: www.qatartesol.org).

Furthermore, Mrs Ahmed was a UNESCO Delegate at the Qatar Foundation and UNESCO Second Annual Conference and interacted as well as addressed questions that she felt were needed to be talked about such as ‘who do we think are the real educators in this world today and why?’ She also participated in a few Educational Conferences and brought awareness about the education facilities for the females that have improved over the years in the Middle East.

1) First of all, tell us a bit about yourself and your educational experiences.

My official name is Arshiya Ahmed and I am known as Nageen among my family, friends, and colleagues.  I have a Master of Education in Curriculum and am currently utilizing my expertise at Start World Organization, in the UAE to help the special needs children in creative art.  My interest in the field of education grew sometime back in my undergraduate years when I was majoring in Computer Information Systems (CIS) and mentored students in Gen Ed courses.  I was very eager to earn my CIS degree and work right away since there were a lot of job openings for new BSc graduates (and though I was distracted by a lot of non-computer related jobs during my job search era, I stuck to my job hunt).  In my last year of CIS program, the IT and its related job markets were critically affected by the tragic 9/11 incident.  However I was lucky enough to get the post of a Visual Basics Programmer in a company back home (Canada) within a year’s time.

It was very exciting when I first started working in the company but soon began to lose my interest because of the monotony in the working climate.  Other new CIS graduates were equally given tedious tasks but they did not mind sitting in an isolated setting and working on their assignments after hours.  The working atmosphere was quite self-centred as we were only concerned in making a difference to the consumers who were interested in spending on newly launched and expensive products.  Eventually my enthusiasm to work further in CIS field dropped and I decided to change my scope.

I began to brainstorm the activities that I enjoyed and recalled the time when I worked with my students and developed my interest in education research.  Words like ‘innovation’ ‘awareness’ ‘practical’, ‘educate’, and ‘visionary’ came up as I continued to brainstorm and realised that I had fun applying ideas that appeared sceptical in both educating and researching. Hence I found the field of Education and Research appropriate and got into it.

In my experience, the education system in the world is partially to be blamed for the development of ignorance and selfish characteristics in people because subjects that enhance the noble side of our personality are hardly considered as mandatory as other required school subjects.  Furthermore, there is still not much dialogue between other nations (regardless of the world having some knowledge about other cultures, beliefs, and traditions).  Nonetheless, I think that it is never too late to start thinking on the lines of education restoration while taking the aforesaid points (in this paragraph) into consideration; one of the key points that I think should be looked into are the overlooked slipups in education that are voiced by many students, parents, and people who did not have the opportunity to go to a school before making any modifications to the system.

2) Tell us about your work as a Student Advisor and University Success Educator at the Qatar Foundation.

I have noticed that many undergraduate students enter college/ university with an undecided major.  They tend to change their mind as they discover their interest in various subjects, hence my role as a Student Advisor was to help my students in their decision making in terms of the courses that they wanted to take and why they wanted to take them.  I would make sure that the students understood their program of study by giving them a chance to peruse the descriptions of both compulsory and elective courses in it ‘independently’ within a week’s time.  This method helped many students who were accustomed to spoon-feeding and they began to do their research on their own and then select their major.  However, I kept track of their progress and made sure that they would meet with me immediately if they encountered issues in managing time between studies and extracurricular events and/ or adjusting to their climate.

The University Success courses were preparatory courses and were mandatory for the students who had not yet decided the university that they desired to study at (whether in or outside of Qatar).  The purpose of these courses was to enhance students’ English vocabulary, build time management skills, and prioritize short and long term goals.  The courses also covered a variety of study skills such as textbook reading, test taking, note taking, and oral presentation skills to help them succeed in their studies at a college/ university level.  In addition, students were made aware of the academic climate in other countries since many of them had never stepped out of Qatar for further education (especially the Arab female students).

My students also needed to develop cultural awareness so that they would adjust well in a non-Arab academic environment hence issues such as homesickness and culture adjustments were completely taken into consideration.  It was amazing to see that a lot of input was from the foreign exchange students (who were living in Qatar Foundation dormitories) as we discussed the social and academic norms in Qatar in my lectures and they were an inspiration to many locals.

3) Could you now tell us about the Qatar Foundation and what they are trying to accomplish?

Qatar Foundation (QF) is based in Qatar since 1995 and both His Highness Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani (the Emir of State of Qatar) and Her Highness Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser Al Missned, (wife of the Emir and Chairwoman of the foundation) had the aim to enhance the lives of people in Qatar.  Hence they are financing the foundation to help develop education, scientific research, and the community in Qatar as well as involved in conducting the assignments that are under construction for the foundation’s growth.

Under the foundation, a huge Education City has been built having schools, colleges, and universities that provide activities related to academic and training programs.  Most of the universities are a branch of the universities in the US, thus it is a benefit to students who want to obtain a degree from any one of the schools while residing in Qatar or transfer themselves to the head school.  Some institutes are also built to develop the personality of students as well as enhance their research (particularly on Islam), leadership, and debating skills.  Moreover, an increasing number of youths are becoming a part of Al Shaqab (horse training school) since the sport is very popular in the Arabian Gulf regions.

There are centres that are built under the foundation for Qatar’s community development as well.  For example, students can build their scientific skills as part of their personality development program as well as share their ideas and talents for QF’s progression.  The Qatar’s community has also been helping out many nations that are under crises directly and/or through ROTA ((Reach Out to Asia) an NGO which is under the patronages of the heir apparent, His Highness Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani and guided by Her Excellency Sheikha Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani) in relation to providing funds to communities in Asia for basic education.  Moreover, Qatar Diabetes Society, Social Development Center, Cultural Development Center, and Doha International Institute for Family Studies and Development are an asset to QF and further being implemented.

Since, the foundation is a non-profit organization and a private establishment, both local and international staff and students are encouraged to become a part it.

4) What kind of work did you do at UNESCO?

I was an Assistant Program Specialist at UNESCO and was dealing with the Qatar Foundation/ UNESCO project.  The project dealt with the renewal and reconstruction of the higher education system, in Iraq.  It also dealt with the Iraqi Fellowship Program with respect to the recruitment policy and procedures of professors who were applying to work outside of Iraq but within the Middle East.

Our aim with respect to the reconstruction of Iraq’s higher education system was to assist the people who were involved in the funding of schools as well as keep track of the funds that were being provided for school equipment purchases.  Many areas that were completely destroyed from wars were school zones, thus the Ministry of Higher Education in Qatar and Qtel (Qatar Telecommunications Services) had active roles to play with regards to dealing with school funds, computer installations, and Internet support while the rebuilding of schools took place in the country.  My role was to research and analyse the current situation of the project and interact/ follow up with the people who were involved in the project.  UNESCO supervised and made sure that the planned assignments were being executed correctly since there were political interferences time to time that kept slowing down the process.  For example, there were a few areas in Iraq that had become a war zone hence it was difficult to construct anything (regardless of the planned layout that was made by the involved parties of the project).

The mission of the Iraqi Fellowship program was to recruit professors from Iraq who had the qualifications to teach at a university but were unable to do so in the country.  For example, there were professors who wanted to continue with their profession in an Arab country so that they would feel closer to their home, some professors had lost their jobs due to war and could not afford to stay unemployed, and some professors were eager to get away from the country and teach abroad.  I was the middleman and corresponded with universities in the Middle East to make sure that the professors’ documents were being received on time as well as informed the professors about additional requirements and the deadlines of the universities that they had applied to.  Also, I made sure that the professors who were coming to Qatar for the first time were given the opportunity to gain knowledge about the country, its people, and its culture regardless of having Arabic as the core language of communication.

5) I understand that you were at the University of Windsor. What was that like and what did you do there?

I agree with Wikipedia.org which states about the University of Windsor as “a leader in progressive change, providing a purposeful and enriching education experience that engages students in various learning, research and other opportunities, while also positioning itself as an internationally oriented, multi-disciplined institution that actively encourages a broad diversity of students, faculty and staff.” I find the University of Windsor to be well informed as well as hungry for more knowledge about the foreign cultures while attracting international students from all over the world.  The vibe at the university was unbiased because everyone studying and/ or working there had the opportunity to be a part of the university.  My teachers in the Education department were very cooperative and responded thoroughly, enough to guide us better in our research work.  Also, the students in the department were generous about sharing their knowledge and worked as a team.

During my first semester at the university, I had already started doing my research work because I thought that I had made up my mind about my research topic i.e. technology and its drawbacks in education.  However, when I took Issues In Education course, there were numerous matters that were in a dying need of solutions.  One of the most common issues that were spoken about in that class was high school students and their concerns.  Then I thought of starting my research on struggling issues of freshmen because I had observed (during my high school years) that many freshmen had undergone religious, racial, and sexual prejudice.  High schools are an environment where students tend to discover a lot about themselves as well as their surrounding and while I was studying in a western school system, in Qatar, I had noticed that many classmates of mine were not even familiar of a western environment.  They were labelled by their teachers and/ or other fellow mates and unable to fit in the environment regardless of being smart in appearance and brilliance.  I also thought about students like me who got along with other students but had a hard time getting along with some teachers.  For example, my learning methods appeared inspirational to many students since I created stories and games in subjects that I found boring such as Math, Science, and Languages.  However, these methods were repeatedly discouraged by the teachers of the above mentioned subjects who told me that I am too young to apply such methods and wasting time, and making a joke of the taught concepts.  They even insisted on sticking to the teachers’ techniques that my classmates began to tell me the same.  Ultimately I struggled in the aforementioned subjects as I used those teachers’ techniques and my concentration and performance in other subjects was affected badly.

It took me a while before I was able to decide what my graduate research topic was going to be about since random questions were floating in my mind such as the affects from a small change in an academic climate, irritated student bodies, negative influence, etc.  Most of the journal articles spoke about the emotional sufferings of foreign students in a new environment however there were students I later came across whom I came across at random who verbalized my observation about their feelings in a new academic setup.  These students belonged to smaller countries but felt that people have oversimplified their culture and tradition.  For example, countries that are not well known are generally associated with the renowned countries and their culture.

Nevertheless I was really surprised when my audience (mainly educators and students in the Education Department at the university) had limited knowledge on countries in the Arabian Gulf.  I remember my experiences with the UK and US citizens who actually asked me if Qatar was a city in the Middle East regardless of having the knowledge of International schools in Qatar that were established in the early eighties for native speakers of English.  However, I was really startled to hear the same abovementioned question from many Canadians because Canada is known as the ingredient of multiculturalism and many citizens assumed Qatar to be a part of the UAE or Saudi Arabia.  Consequently I chose to look into cultural conflicts that were possibly hindering international Arab students’ adjustment (especially who had come from the Arabian Gulf countries) to a North American environment (mainly Canada).

I used the extant literature which related to international students’ experiences and challenges from the major change in their lives, and provided the faculties of education, at Canadian universities a better understanding about the Arab culture in the Arabian Gulf regions.  I felt that information about these areas of the world was limited, thus aspects relating to the expansion of education in Qatar were addressed in my research and a section on the significance of education for female international Arab students was also highlighted due to the fact that Arab females are encouraged to acquire more education within Arabian Gulf States, than in the past.  I gave the title of my dissertation “Social and Cultural Adjustments of International Arab Students at Canadian Universities” and succeeded in my defence.

My experience as a Graduate Assistant, Research Aide to Head of Research Information Services in Education, and ESL Facilitator for Scholarly Writing at the university has enriched my skills in curriculum research and design, and lesson planning. However, one other skill that I have noticed in myself (over the years) is that I tend to look out for the passive natured hard workers since they usually feel high and dry when they are ill-treated by their fellow colleagues.  I think that I would not have had a chance to strengthen a skill such as this one had I not switched from CIS to Education.

6) You were recently at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University. What were you doing there?

I was a Guest Speaker at the NMMU and contributed my time to both the students and colleagues there by visiting the professors in both the Education and Media and Communication departments.  I told them about my experiences in the East and West part of the academic world as an educator and a student and some of the professors wanted me to come into their classes to give additional lectures with regards to the things that should be acknowledged about education in the Middle East (because I reside in the UAE), Pakistan, and Canada (because both are my countries).

My queries and discussions grabbed the interest of many of the professors at the NMMU and they felt that students and teachers may get a better picture if I could visit their classes and discuss matters related to their on-going lectures such as cultural awareness, ESL students’ communication difficulties, Education Research techniques, Education change and its effects, etc.

At my end, I wanted everyone to gain a broader conception about curriculum and education change from an international perspective, hence I was given the honour to come in and lecture/ give presentations.  I gave an outlook to the English Methodology students (registered for the PGCE programme of study) on teaching English to non-mother tongue speakers living outside of South Africa.  The students there reflected on the processes involved in second language teaching along with the challenges related to ESL teaching.  I asked them to share their viewpoints individually which enabled everyone to acquire new insights with regards to teaching ESL students.

Additionally, I lectured the Master level students on Qualitative Research Methods in Education since they were new to education research methodologies.  I guided them with regards to the difficulties that usually arise during research work (apart from giving them an outlook on qualitative research approaches).  Then, I spoke about Creswell’s qualitative methods and Johnson and Christensen’s qualitative research methodologies since I used their research techniques during my M.Ed program.

Above and beyond, I shared my examples as a former University of Windsor student and motivated them to corner their work properly to avoid ethical issues.

There were professors who talked with me for hours about the media portrayal about both South African and Middle Eastern cultures.  For example, audience mostly comprehend information from one angle about South Africa i.e. the nation is suffering from poverty, people have limited access to further education, etc.  We also felt that no matter how much we make the world aware and correct its misconceptions, it is not enough as the majority of the people become convinced by gibberish and go back to its bias nature whenever they hear about an ill act of a human being belonging to another tribe or faith, for instance.  We also concluded that we are bias subconsciously at some point towards other nations and need to program our mind to get rid of practising any preconceived notions.

Overall, I was very happy to visit the NMMU especially since I had the opportunity to hear the interpretations of students, teachers, and principals about education and their educational experiences.

7)  What specifically have you been investigating in terms of education research methodologies-? Qualitative or Quantitative or both?

I find qualitative research to be very unique in contrast to the rest of the education research methodologies because I think that this kind of investigation carries a greater value when trying to understand the views of people.  Although Quantitative research is a good idea when it comes to a large data collection, the genuine voice may be limited as compared to the qualitative information.

My investigations and discoveries are judged holistically as I work with my colleagues.  Thus I think that Qualitative methodologies are essential when focusing on the development of education.  For example, I have managed to find vast information in relation to the education transformation going on in many Middle East regions due to interacting with the Arabs there.  Senior citizens of Qatar in particular have a fear that Arab culture may diminish, while the English language plays the dominant role of being the language of instruction.  They also fear that Arabic may no longer be the language of communication which may increase the communication gap between the young and the elder generation (which may limit the understanding about the country’s culture and its significance too).

I also think that if researchers carry out a qualitative research on an informal level, people may be able to give better responses as they appear relaxed.  However, education researchers must show their concern towards their participants because better responses can be given by them only when they are able to trust the researchers.

8) In terms of educational transformation, what do you see as the main issues in various parts of the world?

Well, I did mention earlier about the fears that are seen among Arabs in the Middle East due to a rapid transformation that is English becoming the language of instruction in schools instead of Arabic.  However I think that majority of the issues are to due seeing ‘change’ as a/n forceful, sudden, imposed, and off-the-cuff element in most countries.

For example, I have encountered many teachers and students, in many parts of the world who speak Spanish, Afrikaan, Pushto, Italian, and French, better than English and are adapting English as the language of instruction in their schools.  They are willing to communicate in English but their level of comfort in speaking the language is low hence they get agitated when making grammatical mistakes and/ or not clear enough.

9) What are the educational, cultural, social and psychological aspects relative to learning English as a second language?

Let us put ourselves in other peoples’ shoes in this regard. If you are fluent in English and suddenly asked to instruct in a language that appears complicated to you, it will be a struggling and possibly an agitating factor.  Theoretically this may not be seen challenging as the language may be a communication in a written or listening form and you would read about other cultures and acknowledge their social etiquettes and taboos.  However, you may not know the nitty-gritty things such as the slang expressions which could result in you becoming a misfit when others talk to you using those about expressions.

For instance, the expression ‘you deserve a bottle of beer’ indicates appreciation in some cultures.  However, this expression may be offensive to the people of a culture where alcohol is prohibited.  As a result, you may be affected:

Psychologically – You feel incapable and dejected when thinking or speaking the way you would, in general.

Culturally – You are unable to be of a new culture due to not having similar attributes in terms of carrying yourself.

Socially – What is acceptable socially in your culture may not be in another, and so you may end up setting barriers for yourself with regards to mingling with people around you.

Though there are numerous reading materials that highlight the ‘educational’ aspects relative to learning English, I think that ESL Instructors are able to gain a better knowledge about the existing teaching methods that have worked well or need reviewing upon their students’ progress.  I also recommend that teachers should be more sensitive towards the individual difficulties of students in relation to building their English language skills otherwise their students may encounter unnecessary difficulties psychologically and/or culturally and/or socially.

10 ) The economy appears bleak…How does this impact beginning teachers?

Beginning teachers have a strong passion to focus and guide their students, but many are forced into looking at schools as a business especially because their current pay is not on a high scale.  They rely on a high number of students’ enrolment in order to keep their job and unfortunately they have to list money as their first priority.

I for myself think that education should be seen as a necessity and added under the basic necessity of Maslow’s Hierarchical Chart because the concept of being a ‘good’ teacher is slowly diminishing and it is disappointing to see that teachers are in a rat race so as to get into popular schools even if the quality of education is not great in those schools.  I am sure that there are so many teachers who deserve recognition however preference is being given to those teachers who have numerous contacts or are coming from influential backgrounds regardless of them not being well qualified.  As a result, beginning teachers are least referred and affected by the bleak economy.

11) What is this Start World Organization all about?

Start is an Al Madad Foundation project and an Al Madad/Art Dubai joint project.  Both Al Madad and Art Dubai are the founders of Start and working side by side.  The information about the upcoming events at Start is provided by them other than through radio, websites, and publications since the organization is a constant programme of art education in order to improve the on-going skills and form long-term relations among different societies.

There are two major roles of Start:

The organization heals children who have autism, down syndrome, ADD (attention deficit disorder), and dyslexia by way of art communication.  In the UAE, there are art development programmes for these children and young adults that provide them a variety of resourceful opportunities such as the development of their art skills, emotions communicated through their drawings, etc.  The other role of Start is to support the children who have become the victims of natural or manmade disasters.  The main support is from the funding of developed test projects in Palestine and Lebanon, however, the organization gets involved in fund raising events such as the Dubai Marathon 2010 to help the victims of these countries as well as other parts of the world.

A gradual network between START and the international community is being built, where inter-cultural communication, awareness and understanding is growing.

12) What do you know about the Al Madad Foundation/ Art Dubai project?

The term ‘madad’ in Urdu means help and so Al Madad Foundation is a helping aid that aims to grow inter-cultural awareness to ease problems of poverty.  The foundation was officially registered in 2001, UK and has been helping Start to use the international language of art to rebuild, educate and develop the skills and opportunities of youths who are coming from the areas that have been destroyed due to natural or human catastrophes.  The purpose of the project is to facilitate these people through exchanging thoughts with the use of art.  Furthermore, the foundation has established a programme for artists from all over the world to visit the Art Dubai fair and support the artistic development and opportunities for the young artists.  The art work of these young artists is selected and showcased and some of them are even offered bursaries, scholarships and travel assistance.

13) Tell us about your work with children with autism and Down Syndrome.

My team and I assist the children to use their art talent so that they can express themselves.  Each child is assigned with a mentor and both work together as a team.  Sometimes (depending on our lesson plan) we work in small groups and every child gets to express what s/he wants others to see.  Then they come up with innovative ideas which they display on their canvas.  There are times when some of the children become disturbed when they are trying to communicate.

For example, I have encountered difficulty with regards to interacting with a few children who would either become hyper or cry out of frustration.  In cases like these, one cannot even hug them as they become aggressive.  So, one of my approaches (that have worked well) is to use my visual expressions as a form of communication and then talk to them softly until they would calm down.

Occasionally, I would show them different pictures and make the sound of the items seen in the pictures (such as a plane or a cat); an activity like this one is usually used since the children laugh and repeat the sounds of the items.  Moreover I am amazed by their aptitude of picking up the sounds of each item correctly.  Sometimes children would sit and stare at the ceiling but have no output.  In cases like these, I lay the colours out for them to choose and tap on each colour until I receive their nod in some form.

14) I understand you have some videos posted on the Internet- Tell us about them.

Well, I will not get into any detail about these posted videos and pictures as I do not like to sing my own praises.  Basically, the video clips and photographs show my team and I working on various projects that are being done for a good cause.  It demonstrates the triumph of our accomplishments as well as encourages everyone to fulfil their duty selflessly.

15) What have I neglected to ask?

I am very fortunate to be surrounded by genuine and caring people however I would like to mention the unostentatious individuals, who are a great influence in this world since they consider their hard work a commitment.  However, they are sensitive towards the privacy concerns of other people so they tend to stay away from public eye.  Hence I am mentioning one or two of their remarkable qualities and achievements that I have been applying in my life as well.

My grandparents solemnly comprehend and follow what has been stated about education in the Quran.  They live a simple lifestyle and have faith in their ambition that is to gain the good of this world while staying away from materialistic beliefs.  By the way, my grandparents often remind me of the Tuohy couple (from the movie ‘The Blind Side’) in terms of taking the responsibility to help the children who want to study further but have no money.  My grandparents have been running an orphanage and a primary institute for many years now and have managed to convince quite a large number of parents (who have suffered from many fatalities) to have their children enrol in a school.

Because my grandparents do not want any child to be left behind in education, they have given these parents the option to either send their children to my grandparents’ school or get them enrolled in another credible school.  Also, I have seen my grandparents working hard on all their students to grasp what is being taught in their school instead of letting them learn without any understanding.

My grandparents feel that education is for all and so they have been motivating the school going children (in the rural areas of Pakistan) to use their education to help their families as well.  Such a gesture articulates that a major part of our life becomes a real triumph when we continue to benefit other people via educating them other than educating ourselves.

My Parents will always be our (my siblings and my) ‘loyal educators’ because they have helped us to build the skills to live among others in peace and with unity.

My father is a sympathetic man and a workaholic since he has the habit of completing his work even if it would mean to sacrifice his leisure time for others.  He has been known as a dedicated Administrative Officer and Consultant at UNESCO among most of his colleagues and a strong follower of doing good deeds from the heart.  According to his colleagues, he has influenced many (who were once backstabbers and/ or egoistic) to let go of malevolent acts due to his unbiased nature towards them.

I remember talking to him about one of my school experiences where some high school teenagers stole my study materials (as well as my classmate’s notes that I had borrowed from) and left no evidence.  I was very disturbed and thought that perhaps this was a comeback for being a bully (during my junior high years) towards the braggers, teacher’s pets, and so called cool bullies.  I blamed myself and wondered about trusting anyone anymore.  However, my father told me to thank God because an incident such as this one could have been worse.  He also quoted one of his apothegms (as he told me how much we go through various settings in life in order to make better decisions) i.e. ‘to make better decisions we need to learn from the experiences that everyone goes through NOT just from our own ones’.  Besides, it is true (from what I have seen in the world) that people are made, broken, re made, and broken repeatedly but only few learn to take things positively, and move on. People who know my father talk about him admirably, however, he feels that there is nothing more calming than thanking God for the love that he has earned through His guidance.

My mother is well-known for being calm and composed Artist with high standards of decorum and who loves her motherhood.  I recall when my mother was studying, working, and raising the three of us without a babysitter, which certainly sounds like a tough job considering the amount of social gatherings that took place at home almost on a daily basis.  Her workload was very demanding especially when my father used to stay late at work, however I have never heard her grumble or scream at anyone.

I find my mother a cheerful and lively person and hope to be a mother like her someday since I remember how she utilized our time by involving us in educational games such as Give Us A Clue, or Mastermind as we would wait for my father to come home.  And it is not just the family who speaks about her merry nature but her friends, colleagues, and clients too.  Some of my mother’s close friends have even asked her to give them tips on the ‘Art of Living’ in which she said to them that ‘the key to inner happiness is the art of living where you practice patience and forgive people because there is nothing more in the world than God helping us to look for the good in others…. life is unpredictable and one should never hold grudges against anyone or anything.’

My siblings believe that ‘practical solutions’ to problems are provided when one visits or even volunteers to be in other people’s shoes.  They have assisted a few companies and organizations on a voluntary basis as well and are presently trying to make a difference in and for this world.

My sister tends to handle challenges that I think are quite tough.  She is very passionate about building bridges among nations and helping those who are suffering in this world.  I remember when my sister was majoring in International Relations and dealt with students who were homesick or had low self-esteem.  I often wondered how she studied since she barely slept due to helping those students out.  But her nature got me thinking and I comprehended that she is the type who takes the initiative with regards to getting people out of a problem.  I was amazed when I came to know about her visit to the flooded areas of Oman.  She went with her colleagues as an Administrative Assistant (UNESCO, Qatar) and literally experienced walking by shattered schools and drowned bodies in 40 degrees Celsius while surviving with just a litre of water a day.  My sister had no idea about how much the place was ruined until she saw it and when I asked her how she felt, she just could not help telling me about the people who survived and needed instant aid.

I admire her passion and she is my inspiration especially when it comes to her doing things independently and attending people (who need her help) without looking at her convenience.

My brother deeply believes that what matters to people in this world is exclusive hence they should be heard prior to bringing in ideas for solutions.  Until now he has visited some of the rundown areas of Canada as well as interacted with a few people living there and made documentaries and projects on civil issues such as health and environment, and 1Goal Campaign.  His work has brought awareness to his audience and I was amazed to observe a huge list of positive comments made by his viewers about the work (including Queen Rania of Jordan).

Though my brother is the youngest, his elders at work and at home (including me) feel that he talks to the point as he gives his feedback.  There was a time when he and I took a few computer programming courses together during our undergrad years and I received his critical feedback on my presentation skills.  I felt that he had the right choice of words to convey his message that there was no way that the criticism could have been taken in an unhealthy manner.  Although his Media and Entertainment Business profession entails constant criticism, he feels that it should be taken as healthy as possible not just in his profession but in any other occupation; this is another one of his advices that I apply in my life.

My husband is the one who told me about Start World Organization since he knew that I would be interested in helping out the deprived people, hence I have been a part of the organization ever since.  From what I know about him as well as heard through his colleagues, he has a very practical way of thinking and managing his work.  His passion towards charitable activities is very strong that he would go out of his way to help.  For example, early this year, he and I took part in the Dubai Marathon 2010 to raise funds for the underprivileged.  Though he had a very late sitting at work, he ran early in the morning and completed the whole 10km race whereas, I managed to complete 9km due to seeing his determination.

There has also been a point in his life where he stayed in the destroyed areas from the earthquake (that occurred in Pakistan five years ago) to help out the people especially who were in a dying need of immediate aid.  His friends have told me that he went to those areas every day after work and sometimes stayed back overnight for the earthquake sufferers. Even now, he has been dedicating his time to help out the flood victims of Pakistan as well as gathering more volunteers that he is identified as an Active Senior Auditor of Dubai World among other volunteers because of his willpower.

Comments (3 posted):

on 04/12/2010 06:55:44

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Brilliant!!!

 

louet on 04/12/2010 20:33:48

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You are indeed a special person. I am priviledged to have been able to have known you and your family.
I wish you the best and success in you and your siblings path.
And Love to mom and dad
Colin Hannaford on 07/12/2010 15:45:27

Dear Ms Ahmed,

Thank you for this superb ‘tour d’horizon’ for Professor Shaughnessy!
My attention is captured by your observation: ‘In my experience, the education system in the world is partially to be blamed for the development of ignorance and selfish characteristics in people because subjects that enhance the noble side of our personality are hardly considered as mandatory as other required school subjects.’
I noticed this moral damage whilst teaching school mathematics over a successful career of twenty-eight years. But then I realised that what happened in my classroom must affect children everywhere. It may be they will be more fortunate now that you have noticed it too.
It is my belief that mathematics lessons are major cause of this damage. One reason, of course, is that everyone is expected to learn mathematics! But mathematics lessons which depend primarily on instruction, which is by far the most common, will soon convince a fortunate few students that in order not to be held back they need to be selfish. The majority will soon be convinced that in order to appear to succeed they need to be dishonest. The remainder will soon be frustrated and will become increasing angry with authority of any kind.
This will not create a harmonious and united society.
I discovered that exactly the same lessons can be learnt instead by children through critical, constructive, receptive discourse. This is how university mathematicians learn from each other. If adjusted to their level, it is not beyond children to do the same. This is far more effective pedagogically. It is far more enjoyable for pupils and teache. It provides youngsters with years of experience in co-operating fruitfully and honestly, this preparing them for an adulthood in which these qualities are respected as strengths and not derided as foolish and weak.
Which society is to be preferred?
Last year the Qatar Foundation paid for a conference in Windsor Castle called ‘Giving Peace a Voice’. Unfortunately, besides seven other international professors, who were entirely supportive, I invited a senior British professor of education.
Her tireless criticism apparently convinced the Qatari delegation that my practical experience in the classroom was of entirely unimportant in comparison with her academic contribution to British education.
She did not explain why British school mathematics and science standards have fallen drastically in the past twenty years.
It might also be noted now that in the recent global crisis there were clearly far too many ‘financial experts’ who most sincerely believed that in order to succeed it is necessary to be dishonest. These experts are still in control of much of the world’s financial system.
Add the savage discontent of millions of young people leaving British and American schools crippled by their inability to read or write properly, and three more ruinous demonstrations of the truth of your observation could hardly be imagined.
Well done, Ms Ahmed! You have achieved more in a few years than the whole of the British academic educational establishment has in decades!
I and my colleagues are now working with other countries, but if you would like to pick up this broken thread, we would be most happy to hear from you.
Sincerely,
Colin Hannaford,
Director, Institute for Democracy from Mathematics, Oxford, England.

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