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Student builds sewing charity to aid hundreds of refugee women

Alya Al-Ammari

By IB student, Alya Al-Ammari

I had always hoped to start my own charity. Yet, I didn’t have the motivation nor the time management to balance aspirations with my school work and extracurricular activities. Even if I did, I thought it would be impossible. I had it ingrained in my mind that Arab culture was not synonymous with youth culture and that I was limited to what school work and local activities offered me, nothing more.

When my older sister Maryam began the Diploma Programme (DP), she also wanted to start a charity, and obviously I was excited to participate. Together, we began Maharat – a charity targeting the refugee crisis which was the biggest problem in my region at the time. The project began as a small centre on the border of Syria in Dhlayl, Jordan, where we taught sewing skills to Syrian and Palestinian refugees and impoverished Jordanian women. These women graduated from our sewing courses with valuable skills and the ability to provide an income for their families.

Together with her sister Maryam, Alya set up the sewing centre

The setup and implementation took two years to complete, at the end of which my sister graduated high school and was exhausted. That summer, I worried that I would not be able to expand the project beyond the foundations that my sister had built. Many women had already completed training and the charity was on its way to becoming self-sustaining.

As a young teenager entering my high school years at Ibn Khuldoon National School in Bahrain, I immediately immersed myself in school work. The change between tenth grade and the first year of the DP was unprecedented and genuinely exciting. We were introduced to theory of knowledge (TOK) classes and I found it new and compelling.

The DP was not the sheltered education that I was used to. I was learning and living in the context of a global community.

We talked about Israel and the Holocaust in history class. Our assigned reading in English included challenging topics such as assassination, rape, and prostitution. Suddenly, my teachers were actively and directly pushing us to be risk takers, to take on difficult challenges with an open mind, and take action on issues that we care about! These were not only values that were intuitively taught and learned in a classroom, they were necessary in order to graduate. My DP experience ironed out my issues with organisation and time management. In the months following the start of the DP, I launched two new projects under Maharat entirely on my own.

I collected and catalogued over 300 dresses to launch a wedding attire rental service in four of the disadvantaged areas across Jordan, for women who couldn’t afford to participate in this integral part of Arab culture. I also organised an island-wide football tournament to raise funds and heat 40 family’s houses throughout the winter. We began plans to open a new centre in Southern Jordan and renovate our building in Dhlayl. The number of women we accommodated in the initial project accelerated greatly in my first DP year. Over 500 refugee women had graduated from our sewing courses.

The DP challenged my idea that young people are inherently apathetic and passive. It charged me into the mind-set that allowed me to grow my charity beyond anything I could have imagined possible before.

Alya Al-Ammari is an IB Diploma Programme student at Ibn Khuldoon National School in Bahrain. Do you have a story you would love to share, let us know at [email protected]