01 Oct VolunteerWSB – Coffee & Conversation with Saman Ansari
Location: Bateel (Olaya street)
Anna : Diet Pepsi
Saman: Mint Lemonade
Recently I had the opportunity to have coffee and conversation with Saman at the new Bateel Cafe on Olaya Street. For the last few months I have had the pleasure to both work and learn from Saman in WSB and I can not begin to stress on how lucky I was to have had this opportunity. Her vast experience in volunteering has not only enriched my knowledge in this field personally, but has cemented an area in WSB for volunteering.
Anna : Saman, How long you have been in Riyadh? How was your arrival?
Saman : I have had the pleasure of being here for almost 2 years and ever since my arrival I have known I wanted to volunteer in Riyadh. I had researched a great deal prior to my arrival for volunteering opportunities but came up empty handed. The impression I had received was that there was no means of volunteering in Saudi Arabia for expats.
Anna : and you found Women’s Skills Bureau..
Saman: Once I arrived in Riyadh and began to search for expat groups I came across WSB which seemed to actively represent all expatriates. Almost immediately however, I noticed that there was an absence of volunteering opportunities being posted and greater attention was being paid to job opportunities. Through the recommendations of some of my friends I was able to contact the Director of WSB, Betsy Sharma.
Anna: I recall you mentioning that there was a lack of volunteering opportunities for expats, even in WSB.
Saman, Yes, when I met Betsy there were no volunteer activities taking place in WSB at the time. I am very passionate about the need for volunteering in a community, and therefore began to tell her about my experiences in volunteering.
Anna : Speaking of your experiences, would you please tell us about some of them.
Saman: Ofcourse. Professionally I am a graphic designer but I have been involved with volunteer work for a long time. While in college I began volunteering with the Special Olympics in Lahore, Pakistan. My job was to stand at the finish line and encourage and motivate the children to run towards me, and reward them with a hug once they did. I loved their smiles and excitement at their achievements. This was a pivotal moment for the rest of my life, as it inspired me to pursue a future in volunteer work. Having a brother with Downs Syndrome myself, I had always wanted to be involved. From then on I have always made an active effort to dedicate my time to worthy causes regardless of where I have lived.
During my time in the Philippines I spent five years working for an organization helping wheelchair users. I utilized my experience as a graphic designer to handle the communication for the foundation for wheelchair users, and aided in designing the exterior of their first taxi service. Along with this, I also had the honor of teaching art to a girl who was confined to a wheelchair. Every week for three years she came to my house and learned to paint as a mouth painter. Every so often we would arrange to have her paintings sold at the expat bazaars which aided in earning her livelihood. Occasionally I also conducted art classes for children, from children in my daughter’s fifth-grade class as well as special needs children with different challenges.
When my family and I moved back to Pakistan I collaborated with some friends of mine to launch an online volunteering platform which would connect willing volunteers to worthy causes across Karachi. This was one of two extremely intensive projects I took part in. The other was a global initiative in the educational sector which I aided in implementing in Pakistan as a core team member. Apart from this I had my professional commitments as a freelance graphic designer. I also was able to conduct private art classes for a special student suffering from a medical condition whose paintings(all twenty-two of them) were sold at the end of our classes.
Anna: Awesome! So this wide range of experience aided in launching the WSB volunteer area.
Saman: Yes, when I joined WSB as a board member I immediately knew I wanted to work on developing the volunteering area. Being a board member of WSB has opened doors everywhere I have gone. I have been introduced to great people doing wonderful work here. I have conducted art classes at the Down’s Syndrome Children’s Association in Riyadh. The girls I have taught have worked very hard and have done some amazing work. They are now selling canvas prints of the paintings and at a recent event, a number of these paintings were sold. I am so happy that I got a chance to do this during my stay in Riyadh.
With another board member at WSB, we are working on establishing an online volunteering platform for the expat community to give back to the country we are living in.
Saudi Arabia has a lot more to offer than one thinks, you just need just to explore your options. We realized that we could work on connecting some great nonprofits with expat professionals. We hope we are able to use the knowledge and expertise that the expat ladies have in a constructive way in these non- profit organization.
Anna: How would you summarize your experience in Riyadh?
I feel that in the 2 years I have spent in Riyadh I was fortunate to catch a glimpse of a side of Riyadh few expats are lucky enough to see. I have been lucky to meet wonderful Saudi ladies who have become like family.
Anna: Unfortunately you are now leaving Saudi…
Saman: Yes, I will move back to Pakistan this summer. I will miss my students at the Down Syndrome Association, my friends from WSB, all the expats I have been meeting, as well as the Saudi ladies community with their hospitality and kindness a great deal.
Anna: From your experience, what would you recommend to an expat lady, thinking of joining a nonprofit project?
Saman: Women’s Skills Bureau will change her life in Saudi by providing a fresh and unbiased perspective on Saudi Arabia. They will not regret it one bit.
Anna : Any other recommendations?
Saman : Be ready to have amazing experiences, be open to different cultures, and take in what the Saudi society has to offer. Be respectful with the local customs and overall enjoy their rich culture and traditions.
Anna : It has been a pleasure to have this interview. We hope your life will be as fulfilling as it has been so far.