KT For Good: Taking education to distant villages
In the lead-up to the grand ceremony on February 20 when the Arab world declares its hope maker, we will celebrate the stories of optimism and positivity these unsung heroes have lived.
Hailing from a village in Oman's Al Hamra, Zahra Salem Al Aufi assumed responsibility when her children and other villagers moved out to the city to continue their education.
Illiteracy and lack of access to quality education has been prevalent in the village, prompting Al Aufi, the 51-year-old mother of seven, to do her part and help change the situation with her personal efforts.
"I didn't have the privilege to continue my education, as I got married right after I completed grade 5. Yet, it didn't stop me from educating myself as I continued reading books and science-based novels."
Al Aufi passed her passion for knowledge to her children who graduated from medicine, law and engineering schools.
In 2007, she started hosting 20 children between the age of five and 10 years at her home to help them memorise the Holy Quran and study social sciences. Realising that their parents also could not read, she launched her initiative "Fighting my village's illiteracy is my responsibility" through which she aimed to educate more families across other villages.
For two years, she travelled 25km daily through rocky roads and mountainous valleys to reach distant villages to teach women the basics of reading and writing and promote self-learning until the number of students climbed to 100.
To fund her initiative, Al Aufi cooked and sold meals at schools and shops in Al Hamra. She spent the profits to buy books, educational tools and buy rewards to encourage her students. "I woke up with dawn prayers to prepare meals and distribute them to schools before heading to teach women and children," she said.
Her educational initiative attracted other volunteers who dedicated small amounts of money to contribute. Four years later, Al Aufi established 12 centres to educate families, children, and pre-school students. To date, she opened 22 centres in 22 villages that benefit more than 500 individuals a year. Seven of the centres are dedicated to teaching kindergarten students the basics of reading and writing before they start their official education, while 15 schools teach women the Holy Quran.
"We used to teach in places across villages either under a tree on a mat, in Majlises or abandoned houses that we clean and transform into classrooms," said Al Aufi. She now supervises the centres across villages, while over 35 volunteering teachers help with education.
Al Aufi's friends, neighbours and families described Zahra as a "long-time dedicated supporter" of the local community. In 2017, she received the prestigious Sultan Qaboos Award for Voluntary Work. In 2018, she was named among the leading 10 influential female figures in the Arab world by Arab Teachers' Union.
Al Aufi pledges to complete her journey of educating villagers, stating that voluntary work has given her life a sense of fulfillment, happiness and satisfaction.
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