Thursday, March 5, 2009

Meeting the Vice Chancellor

My last day in the UAE, I had the opportunity to meet the Vice Chancellor of the University, Dr. Abdulla Al-Khanbashi. He is one of the main reasons the program I was involved with was established.

Without his support, it seems nothing of import happens at the college. His original idea was to create cultural activities at the school for the benefit of the young women who attend - to expose them to new ideas and possible future pursuits. Hence, poetry as theater, digital photography, puppetry as theater and 2 other theater-related programs.

My final day was already over-full, but when a last-minute call came from the VC's office to say he would have time to see us at noon, my host and I made room. We arrived early and waited while people before us entered and left. It put me in mind of the Godfather.

When you want something done on the campus, if Dr. Al-Khanbashi is on board, it happens. And it happens quickly. Not like most things on campus or the UAE for that matter.

He was dressed in the traditional dishdashi and shook all our hands upon meeting. His office was quite spacious and clear of any clutter. He was handsome and soft-spoken and looked right at me when I spoke. He was not what I'd expected.

He wanted to know if Jim and I thought the program had been successful. I spoke of the talent and courage of so many of the girls and how welcoming they were toward me. And I thanked him for making it possible.

For each program (mine was the 3rd of 5), large, well-done posters are made to help publicize. A poster from each previous program had been presented to him with 'thank yous' and notes from the students scrawled upon the poster. Jim handed him one from this program, but it hadn't been signed by anyone. He handed it back, saying it means more to him with notes from the girls, because he saves them.

There is an international concert coming soon to a theater not far from campus. Jim has told me how difficult it is to get approval to take the girls off-site for even just a night. He has done it before, but only after many months of waiting each and every 'final' approval.

The concert is in a of couple weeks. At this meeting, Jim decided to ask Dr. Al-Khanbashi if he could bring his students. Dr. Al-Khanbashi happened to go to college in Kentucky and while there, worked as an usher at a theater (I had a difficult time imagining him as a theater usher, let me just say).

Not only did he give his stamp of approval (and it is FINAL), he also asked if it were possible for the girls to become more involved in the production - as ushers, as backstage help, as ticket takers, etc. He didn't want them to simply sit in the theater as audience.

In the US this would not be a big deal. Ideas like this happen all the time. In the UAE, this is so very contrary to much of what I witnessed and heard and experienced. Little there, happens quickly.

I was incredibly impressed by his attitude and his desire to create opportunities to help these young women grow. An honor to have shaken his hand.

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