Filled spikes bow humbly whereas the empty crane their lofty heads.Old Arabic saying*
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*The quote is an old Arabic saying illustrated by Safa:
This quote has been a guiding principle for Safa since her early childhood days. Humbleness is an important character trait for her that should also reflect one’s own awareness of being part of a greater society. She ignores people who let her feel that they think better of themselves. In Lebanon, she finds money, status, family standing, beauty and higher education are the prevailing reasons for people to behave arrogantly. But to her, they are covering up for being empty spikes.
3 telling stories about Safa
Telling story 1 – about how she learned for life
Safa’s first years in school proved to be very difficult. One could say she really had to learn it the hard way. Safa was a very lively and sassy child. Back then, teachers especially in public schools in northern Lebanon were very strict and even violent in their teaching approaches. They would not care for any other child besides the top three who didn’t make a fuss. Safa therefore was not successful in her first school and she didn’t like to study at all. Her mother believed in her capabilities and brought her to another private school but nothing changed and Safa wanted to stop going to school at all. Her mother did not give up and motivated her to try yet another school. In the new school, Safa got some homework to do which included writing an Arabic text. She handed it in and soon after she was called to bring her mother for a meeting with the director. Safa was very scared and it turned out that the director accused her mother of writing Safa’s homework which she hadn’t done. They didn’t believe that such a young child could write an elaborate Arabic text on her own but that way they found out about Safa’s enormous gift and potential. This experience clearly influenced Safa’s decision to become a teacher and she focused all her attention on girls who might be overlooked and discriminated. She finds potential in every child and helps them to develop and grow their talents.
Telling story 2 – about how she discovered a new world
When Safa was still in her teens, her elder sister received an invitation to join a project including some training by an international organisation. The condition was to participate in a project to make Tarablus a better place. Safa contributed to some of the activities and she started loving the idea . Later she took part in the program herself and it opened up a new world for her. She started seeing new possibilities to influence and becoming a change maker. Safa is convinced that improving life for everybody is one of the responsibilities capable people have to take on. She left the program long time ago but never finished working for this goal.
Telling story 3 – about how she had to overcome fear
She was on her way back from work with her baby boy in the car when Safa suddenly got under fire. Nobody knew that war has suddenly broken out in Tarablus in 2015 and her house was situated between the front lines of the conflicting parties. Safa managed to leave the car with her little son and fled into the house. There she had to endure all night without light and under siege of the shelling. Eventually she, her husband and their son got out of the house in the morning unharmed. However, the experience of that night will always stay with her and remind her of what’s really important in life.
Safa’s out-standing competencies
Change maker with no limits
Soon after Safa finished the program making Tarablus a better place to live, she founded a women’s organisation. As one of their activities they introduced a weekly market to sell hand crafted products prepared by the women themselves. Safa is also very active in fighting against corruption and for fair and free elections in her community. This is a big challenge and sometimes the fight seems endless and leading to no alterations. However, Safa doesn’t give up. Before the last election she even went from house to house trying to convince people to elect according to their preference and not getting paid for votes. The many poor people around Tarablus accept a little money (sometimes not even $100) to vote for a candidate. This way, no change can happen, because the voter turnout dropped to the very few who get paid for it. As a consequence, Tarablus stays a poor and underdeveloped area and the leading politicians in the county are some of the richest residents in Lebanon.
Entrepreneurial spirit and business sense
Ever since, Safa has been the family’s best bargainer. Whenever there was an acquisition to make, Safa would take the lead in negotiating quality and prices. She even understood the pricing system in the gold souk and complained successfully about misuse of the policies with the effect that she got her money back. At the same time, Safa constantly sees opportunities to invest and build something new. She always put on a long term perspective to foresee which business opportunity might be coming up or how to save money. Some time ago, she found that the city was planning a new University in a remote part of town. She knew that students who come from the villages cannot afford to commute because there is no public transport. So they need safe and affordable accommodation close to the University. Safa took all her money and bought a house in the then remote and underdeveloped area and she renovated the space into homes for students. She now runs four apartments and looks for further investments.
Engagement and ethical values
Standing up for her own rights is as important for Safa as never crossing the limits of being a person of integrity. Since already her father adopted “no-wasta**ethics” for the family, they had to learn how to deal with the negative consequences and discrimination in many aspects of life. This sounds simple but the suffering in a society where this behaviour seems normal is quite severe. It starts with not finding a job, getting funding or basic civic rights and even getting a bed and proper treatment in hospital. Safa fully supports her father’s approach and she has taken it on for her own family as well. She rather fights her way through instead of giving in on her integrity.
Safa’s views on present and future
Safa clearly looks into the future: she wants to improve her life and the life of her kids and invest in the future.
the world would be much better without … politicians!
Safa experienced the negative effects of political dominance in the city of Tarablus. She fights against political interference into the daily life of people. Being dependent on a wasta** puts many constraints on people to live a free life. That’s one of the reasons why Safa dedicates a lot of her spare time to get involved in fair and free elections.
**Wasta is the Arabic term but there are many names for it as it is a common practice in many countries around the world; typically it is a personal connection to get things done or promoted
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