How I’m igniting social change in Saudi Arabia
Editor’s note: Farah Alsufyani submitted her following personal story to Global Young Voices. You too can submit yours to us here.
My name is Farah Alsufyani, and I am a 21-year-old Saudi Arabian international student studying Biotechnology and Molecular Biology at George Mason University (GMU). When I first entered GMU, I was shy because there were so many differences between Saudi Arabia and the United States. I soon adapted, although there were many hardships along the way.
During my Junior year, I had a professor who discovered my desire to be a doctor. He asked me if I planned on working in the United States or back home in Saudi Arabia. After speaking with him, I realized he thought that Saudi Arabian women had no rights.
From that moment on, I knew I wanted to make a change. I wanted to prove that Saudi Arabian women are able to make changes in both the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, as well as influence students on campus. Thus, I nominated myself to be the President of the Saudi Student Association at GMU. Despite backlash and criticism, I won the election during the spring of 2016.
As President, I encouraged collaborations with other organizations on campus. I hoped to improve SSA by spreading our ideas and Saudi Arabian culture throughout the campus. My main goal, however, was to encourage students to become more active on campus.
Through our efforts, the number of SSA participants has increased, and students’ skills in photography, graphic design, music, dance, and filmmaking were improved. We also supported the idea of volunteering by giving awards and certificates.
I directed senior students on advising new international students by answering questions through emails and social media. In addition, I helped the new international students reach out to the faculty at GMU and overcome their fear of failure due to language barriers. SSA helped create resume building workshops, planted trees in Fairfax County, donated clothes to the Islamic Relief Center during Ramadan, and wrapped gifts for the Kids for Eid celebration. We were also able to improve health awareness by creating soccer competitions and holding "Health and Fitness" events, where diet and body information is provided to attendees.
Many Saudi Arabian girls in my community were influenced by the work of the SSA at George Mason University. Inspired, they became part of the team even though they studied at different universities. I was able to motivate Saudi females and help them find their voices. Two Saudi Arabian females even nominated themselves to be presidents of the student association groups at their respective universities and won. Noura Alqahtani, another Saudi Arabian female, was elected as the Student Ambassador at the University of District of Columbia in 2017.
I am proud to speak up and educate westerners on the true Saudi Arabia and our love to help others, engage in the community, live in peace, and value education.
Cover cartoon credit: Sergio Algeri/GYV
Photos credit: Farah Alsufyani