Saudi women's organisations intervene to meet corona challenge

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They were told to stay at home and begin remote learning like everyone else. But they had no laptops. How could they participate in their school’s online classes without computers?

This is the kind of dilemma underprivileged families in south Jeddah are facing as Saudi Arabia is compelled to enforce lockdowns on public life to stop the spread of the deadly coronavirus.

But help is at hand. Saudi women’s empowerment organizations, both long-time established and recently formed, have risen to the challenge with public-spirited initiatives.

“The families in south Jeddah were the first to be under the 24-hour lockdown in Saudi Arabia because they live closely to each other in a high-risk area,” said Dania Al-Maeena, CEO of Aloula, a Saudi non-profit organization.

“We collaborated with a volunteer group called Khadoum that provides distance learning. Hundreds of individuals across Saudi Arabia supported the campaign, and over 15 companies donated laptops, food and games for the children.”

Children of low-income families are able to continue remote learning with the help of laptops given by Saudi women’s group Alnahda.

“Women are the caregivers, and so women are bearing the brunt of the adverse effects of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Rasha Alturki, CEO of Riyadh-based Alnahda Society for Women, which has provided assistance since 1962 to women who are at risk or belong to socioeconomically disadvantaged households.

This year, as part of Saudi Arabia’s G20 presidency, Alnahda was entrusted by a royal decree with leading the W20, an official G20 engagement group dedicated to women’s issues.

At the outset of the COVID-19 outbreak in Saudi Arabia, Aloula staged a campaign entitled “Alnass Libaed” (“People Are for Each Other”), said Al-Maeena.

“We placed a new target to help 800 families and 4,000 beneficiaries, providing them with food baskets, including water, dates, canned foods and food donated by restaurants, as well as toys for children,” she told Arab News.

Established in 1962 by a group of women to support families in south Jeddah and registered with the Ministry of Labor and Social Development, Aloula’s founders have banded together for humanitarian work whenever the need arises. The same kind of intervention is visible during the coronavirus pandemic.

The founders of Aloula “had no phones back then. They’d meet and decide how they’d best help the suffering,” said Al-Maeena.

This time, as the Kingdom confronts one of the biggest public-health challenges since its founding, Aloula has managed to help 4,000 people and more than 1,000 families in need.

“Women are by nature caregivers, so this period of upheaval and distress has prompted women in Saudi Arabia to come together more than ever to help those suffering,” said Honayda Serafi, a fashion designer who serves on the board of the Saudi ADHD Society.

Serafi said she is providing meals for 100 families in Lebanon during the coronavirus crisis. “We want to give a sense of hope and positivity during this period to everyone in need,” she told Arab News.

The Saudi ADHD Society, chaired by Princess Nouf bint Mohammed bin Abdullah Al-Saud, has tailored its ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) programs for online platforms in light of the current situation.

“We’ve provided close to 100 free online counseling sessions,” said Serafi, adding that the society has been receiving many calls for help.

Alturki said all three activities in which Alnahda specializes — grassroots assistance, research and fieldwork, and advocacy — are key to understanding how the situation is affecting women.

In addition, the organization has overseen the distribution of more than 600 laptops among children in need, and connected women in need of masks, sanitizers and financial assistance with charities.

In Alkhobar, Saudi Arabia, social services of a similar nature are being provided by Fatat Alkhaleej, a charity founded in 1968.

“We’ve sourced and distributed protective baskets among beneficiaries of our programs,” said Ebtisam Abdullah Al-Jubair, CEO of Fatat Alkhaleej. “We’re also transferring SR200 ($53.19) to 173 families as part our orphan-sponsorship program.”

She said Fatat Alkhaleej is handing out food baskets to 1,000 families daily and providing online services.