After Sept 11, 2001, a group of seven women led by the effervescent and charismatic Fareah Al Saqqaf decided to respond and react to the crisis the world faced in a proactive manner. They decided to touch lives. Together, they formed LOYAC, a beacon in this wilderness of excesses that guided young souls of Kuwait to imbibe positive values like cooperation, compassion, teamwork and tolerance.
These women realized that to shape the civic identities of the next generation of Kuwait, they would have to harness their energies towards service and active citizenship, which in turn would lead to personal growth, advance their professional skills, build self confidence and inspire in them a desire for social service.
In the years that followed, LOYAC emerged as an amazing success story that mentored young lives, contributed to character building, taught the youth values of volunteerism and helped them develop a commitment towards the community. In Insight today, we speak to Fareah Al Saqqaf, Founder, Chairperson, and Managing Director of LOYAC as she talks about her journey and the evolution of LOYAC into an organization that mentors children into leaders of tomorrow.
Question: What does LOYAC stand for?
Answer: LOYAC is an abbreviation for Lothan Youth Achievement Centre.
Q: What led to the birth of LOYAC?
A: The horrifying act on Sept 11 made me angry and upset. I was upset to know that young people from our part of the world were involved, and I was further upset to know that the United States had retaliated in aggression.
Q: Where were you then?
A: I was on a holiday in Switzerland.
Q: What did you do?
A: I started writing an article in which I expressed my feelings. But each time I finished writing, I would tear it up. I felt this was not enough. I felt something inside me that had to be translated in a different way; that had to be said in a different way. Finally, I replaced the article with a proposal to the government in which I asked them to start a project like LOYAC that would engage the youth in meaningful activities that in turn would lead to their holistic development. But as I went through the proposal I thought why I should ask the government to do something that I could. I got in touch with a few friends who thought the same, got the support of my family and launched LOYAC in 2002.
Q: Will it be wrong to say that through LOYAC, you and your team were able to give the gen-next of Kuwait who had already enjoyed the benefits of oil-wealth, a purpose in life?
A: Humbly, I do agree because when we designed the programme for LOYAC, my friends and I (we are seven ladies by the way), thought of all aspects necessary for the holistic development of a young person.
Q: I may go a step further and say – Your organization has taught young Kuwaitis and other young expatriates dignity of labour – something not valued in parts of South Asia and the Middle East. Am I wrong?
A: No. You are not wrong. The programe not only taught our children humility; it added a lot to their personality. The youth learned that the more they gave, the more they received in return. I believe in this very strongly. The more you serve, the more you receive that is why I don’t like to use the term ‘giving’, I would rather say ‘we are contributing’ because the more you contribute or give, the more you receive in return.
Q: LOYAC is based on the edifice of community service. Why this stress on community service?
A: Community service means you extend yourself to others; you extend yourself to a cause, and that gives you a sense of purpose. There is an ultimate joy in community service and volunteering. When you do community service, you will think many times before you get involved in anything that is detrimental to the greater good. It is a constructive act that nurtures your well-being from different angles. The first angle is the emotional well-being of an individual. Each human being has four aspects of growth: mental, physical, emotional and the spiritual.
You need to nurture all these four dimensions for overall well-being. There are certain activities that affect all four dimensions. For example, yoga nurtures not only our physical being but mental being as well because it gives us clarity of mind. And because yoga has a holistic approach, it affects our emotional and spiritual being as well. The summer programme of LOYAC was designed in a way that it nurtured all four aspects needed for the growth of the youth. By the way, when I refer to spiritual well-being I don’t mean it the usual way.
Q: What do you mean by that?
A: My definition of spirituality does not fall into a traditional classification of spirituality. To me, spirituality means listening to music or being humble to people. Smiling at someone who needs a smile or hugging someone who needs a hug.
Q: Do you find joy in community service?
A: Every second I do something in LOYAC I am blessed with joy. And that’s why I don’t call it ‘giving’ but ‘contributing’, because as much as I am giving time to the youth, I am getting this ultimate joy in return. In fact, my joy is doubled when I go to places where people desperately need help. I felt it when I visited Mombasa to facilitate an effective programme called ‘7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens’. I was in continuous joy during the time I spent in Kenya. I felt that God was blessing every hour.
Q: While we were talking you mentioned borrowing a line from Rabindranath Tagore. Can you tell us more about this?
A: While searching for joy and meaning in his life, Tagore said he found it when he extended himself in community service. I borrowed the line ‘Service is my Joy’ as the motto of LOYAC from a statement by Tagore.
Q: The concept of young Kuwaiti boys and girls working in restaurants or retail outlets was novel. At that time, the concept of Kuwaiti youth working in their free time was new. Did you face any resistance from Kuwaiti parents? How did the young people respond? (I remember being served by a young Kuwaiti boy at Starbucks sometime in 2008. When I asked him, he said he was from LOYAC.
A: I did face trouble from the parents although the young people were OK with it. In the beginning, when parents asked me not to send their child to a hotel or restaurant I would say, ‘please don’t impose on me; I don’t have space for him. Soon, they gave in. LOYAC sent high school students to retail outlets, hotels and restaurants and University students to corporate houses. In fact, soon after, the media picked it up. They were happy to see Kuwaiti children work. It was a huge paradigm shift.
Q: Many people have dreams of contributing to society and the greater good, but at times those dreams fizzle out due to circumstances – what made you persist? What sort of challenges did you face?
A: Well, sometimes our dreams are a bit bigger than the funding, but still because there is this crazy belief that whatever I think of will happen or whatever I want will happen because this is for the benefit of all because this is not for you alone, but for the greater good, the whole universe conspires to make it happen. For example, the fact that LOYAC is operating from this heritage building with 14 rooms at our disposal without rent was a dream, but it happened. My other dream is to have an independent headquarter for LOYAC and this I know will happen as well.
Q: But people may have many dreams. How do they go about actualizing it ?
A: There are always challenges, but let me tell you how dreams come true. First of all, when you dream of something, and you visualize it clearly, you have to put it down in writing. Then, you have to transform this dream into vision, mission, objectives and goals. Actually this is something I have learned from self-help books that teach you how to turn dreams into actuality. The second step is to start putting goals towards achieving your dream. Just writing down your dream and having a clear vision is not enough. You have got to have a passion for this dream, and usually passion comes not from materialistic things, but from things that give you a sense of purpose. And I believe, the stronger the passion the easier it is to attract all the right things your way. I have been living this magic for the past 12 to 13 years. Whatever I want or I dream of I attract. Strong desire is enough to attract the answer to you.
Q: Your philosophy sounds very much like the one espoused in ‘The Secret’.
A: The Secret is one of the books. There are many books that talk about attracting the good things your way or attracting what you want.
Q: And it really works?
A: You have to ask, believe and receive. If you are not willing to receive, it won’t come. LOYAC happened that way.
Q: That’s how you persisted and were motivated? This passion inside you pushed you on?
A: And the commitment to the journey. This commitment means you wake up every morning, and you have few steps to do towards the bigger picture.
Q: Was funding an issue?
A: I had this crazy belief that whatever I wanted would happen as this was for the greater good. In fact, the whole universe conspired to make it happen. For example, in 2012, LOYAC was forced to leave its premises. We didn’t have a place to go to. At that time, the National Council for Culture, Art and Letters offered us a set of rooms in a heritage building to use as our office. This location would have cost us a lot, and to get it for free is something special. I appreciate this support of the government.
Q: So how did your journey with LOYAC start? I have heard it started as a summer programme.
A: Yes, LOYAC was first launched as a summer programme that used the spare time of the youth in a productive manner. The programme included internships with corporates along with mandatory community service. The nature of the programme was such that you could not take one without the other. The program was very successful. In fact, it is a unique programme, a combination of many things, which if anyone tries to imitate they cannot do it as well as us.
Q: How did it grow?
A: We started off with 124 students, but then the year after it increased to 300 and so on. Now we have more than 2,000 students in our fold. There are several programs that run side by side during the year, many events that involve many people. When we first started the idea was to change the paradigm of the Kuwaiti community. Initially, for the first three years we focused on Kuwaitis, but then we opened to everybody. We also set up chapters in Jordan (2008) Lebanon (2009) and Aden (January 2015).
Q: What led to LAPA? ( I have met several young Kuwaiti artists – dancers and actors who would have been lost without the backing of LOYAC). How important is it to encourage the performing arts in our young people especially in a society where it is discouraged?
A: LOYAC Academy of Performing Arts or LAPA has been very successful. LOYAC accepted the responsibility of bringing back Kuwait’s golden age. In the sixties and seventies, Kuwait was very liberal. Later, in the eighties the fundamentalist movement became strong. Since the Islamic fundamentalists were against all forms of art, they banned theatre and music. Any kind of art was haraam in the public sphere. But we decided to bring a change because we believe that no community can progress without arts, there can be no civilization without performing arts.
Q: So you took it up as a challenge.
A: Yes very much so. Dancing on stage is taboo in Kuwait. But our girls in LOYAC dance on stage. In fact, very rarely will you see shows such as the ones presented by LOYAC in Kuwait. In fact, HH the Prime Minister has been an honoured guest on many occasions, and he has attended our shows happily.
Q: How active is LAPA?
A: LAPA is very active. We hold beautiful events sometimes in collaboration with other organizations. We invite important choreographers to work with us. We focus on dancing and acting, and we also have a strong music department.
Q: You have also started a sports wing.
A: Yes we run a soccer school.
Q: Has the sports programme been successful?
A: Yes , it has been very successful. We have been running the soccer school since 2010.
Q: Very slowly, you are going into everything. It seems as if you are aiming at a holistic development of young people.
A: Yes that’s the idea. It is a holistic approach to alternate education. I don’t believe in the classical way of education so what we are offering the youth is everything they need but that they may not find in their schools or at home. And, we provide this in a peaceful environment. I want to tap into the talent of the youth to unleash their creativity and to allow them to expand and realize their dreams.
Q: I am aware that the youth who enroll with LOYAC are given a certificate at the end of the programme. How important is this certificate to children who want to apply abroad?
A: I think it is not only the certificates but the experience in itself is very important. Of course, I do agree that this certificate will help young people to get accepted at University, it will facilitate their employability in the future. But, you know what we are offering the youth is a unique opportunity that will help them evolve and shape their personalities and become future leaders.
Q: You mean it will help them become global citizens.
A: Yes it will help them become global citizens. Actually, lately we have edited the vision and mission statement of LOYAC to add this term – global citizen. We want to help children evolve into highly effective global citizens.
Q: What are your future dreams for LOYAC?
A: Well, One dream is to have chapters all over the world starting with the Middle East, and I know this too will happen because the values of LOYAC apply to every community. The central value of the programme is love, and around this central value are all the other values we believe in such as peace, empowerment, contribution, creativity and commitment.
Fareah Al Saqqaf
Founder, Chairman and Managing Director of youth organization LOYAC and Managing Director of LOYAC Academy of Performing Arts (LAPA). These pioneering youth organizations in Kuwait are the first choice of the youth when it comes to innovative and high quality development programs.
LOYAC has chapters in Jordan, Lebanon and Yemen.
Fareah is also a certified facilitator of 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens and College Students workshops. She has delivered many workshops in the past years which has inspired countless youth in the region.
* Graduated BA in Economics & Statistics (1981)
* Franklin Covey certified facilitator for 7 Habits workshops for teens and college students.
* Economic Planning Manager – Kuwait Airways
* Direct Investments & Corporate Finance Manager – National Investment Company
* Founder, Chairperson and Managing Director – LOYAC
* Managing Director – LAPA
As Managing Director of LAPA, her work includes creating creative opportunities for the organization which are focused towards its growth and sustainability. As an art enthusiastic, she often write plays for LAPA and direct them occasionally to enhance her creativity.
* Member – Higher Council of Education, Kuwait
* Advisory Board Member- United Nations Development Program, Kuwait
* Since establishing LOYAC and through its work, successfully brought about the following paradigm shifts in the Kuwait Community:
* Community Service for the youth
* Service oriented Jobs
* Revival of Drama & Performing Arts
* Accomplished writer with articles on socio economic issues published in local newspapers
* Nominated by US Embassy for ‘International Women of Courage’ award (2008)
* Playwright for LAPA productions like Omar Al Khayyam (2010) & Al Khayzaran (2012)
* LOYAC innovative model was featured in Qatar Foundation publication “Learning a Living”, & LOYAC was invited to share its model with other participants at WISE submit (2012)
* Nominated for ‘WOW award’ by The New Arab Women Forum (2013)
* LOYAC won King Abdullah II Award for Innovation in Jordan for the best youth projects in Arab world.
* LOYAC is recognized as a Best Practice by UN Habitat and Dubai Municipality(2010)
* Fareah has received First Class Medal of Excellence from HH Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah (2014)
* LOYAC was awarded “The Chaillot Special Mention” on Jan 21, 2015 for promotion of Human Rights in 2014 by Delegation of European Union in Riyadh.
By Chaitali B. Roy
Special to the Arab Times