When Rayan Abdulrazzaq Hejles, a 22-year-old medical student from Qatif who attends University of Dammam, visited Tanzania this year joining 20 other youth participants as part of the Saudi International Dialogue Forums, she didn’t know what to expect.
Saudi Arabia is keen on expanding youth development participation and raising their leadership capacities, especially since they represent a large section of in the community. Through the Saudi International Youth Dialogue Forums established in 2010, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), aims at breaking the barriers of distance and create a better understanding among the youth.
“This journey to Tanzania has broadened my perspective on how you see things. Now, it makes me see things differently and have wider understanding of different cultures and diversities,” Rayan told UNDP.
Through this programme, which was initiated by King Abdullah for promoting dialogue among youths worldwide, Saudi youth have visited different countries around the world including China, Spain, India, South Korea and this year Tanzania.
The Saudi Tanzanian Youth Dialogue Forum included a delegation of Saudi Youth who visited Tanzania to learn about and review, with their Tanzanian counterparts, the structural framework of various agencies/organizations or societies and their roles under the theme “Biodiversity Conservation”.
The Saudi Wildlife Authority (SWA), the agency responsible for the conservation and development of wildlife in Saudi Arabia, was supervising the theme and the activities of the forum. The Tanzanian counterpart agency is the Tanzania National Parks Authorities (TANAPA), was responsible for the management of Tanzanian national parks.
Prior to leaving the country, the 20 youth attended workshops to provide participants with information on Tanzania and what to expect when arriving. Although the 20 youths were all from Saudi Arabia, Rayan didn’t know any of the participants before the trip. Coming from the city of Dammam in the Eastern Province, Rayan, a young female student, had a chance to meet different people from different background in Saudi Arabia.
During their stay in Tanzania, they got the chance to visit some of the institutes as Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute (TAWIRI), which is a parastatal organization under the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism responsible for conducting and coordinating wildlife research and The Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA).
The thing that caught Rayan’s attention was how they were getting work done in these institutes. “It wasn't highly equipped labs, as matter of a fact they used the simplest techniques to get the job done. This just tells you that shortage of matter is not an excuse for not excelling in your work,” she added.
As the programme aims at establishing bilateral relations among youth of both countries and exchange experiences between participants, Rayan believes it is important to have an open mind and heart to accept every person and every culture as it is, “opening up to different cultures can be a life changing experience if you allow it to be.”
The delegation had a unique experience visiting a Maasai village, which is a Nilotic ethnic group of semi-nomadic people inhabiting Kenya and Northern Tanzania. They are among the best-known local populations due to their distinctive customs and dress, which the delegation had the chance to see.
“It was wonderful to see people in their own environment and surroundings. Although I saw a documentary on the Maasai once, but it was different seeing them in person and see how they live,” Rayan says.
She believes her experience with MoFA and UNDP as a participant with the Saudi International Dialogue Forum is amazing. “I'm glad I was part of such a great team of supervisors, participants and fellow Tanzanians. It was such a friendly cooperative environment. I would do it all over again,” she said.
Although the forum ended, continuous dialogue sessions between Saudi and Tanzanian youth are still taking place where these youth came up with creative initiatives, which can be applied bilaterally and globally. These initiatives will be submitted to related entities through MoFA for follow up and youth-led implementation.