The Mawada Project is an organization aimed at creating service learning opportunities and experiences for youth in the United Arab Emirates. I had the chance to interview the founder Noha Mahdi. She holds a Master’s of Education degree in Educational Neuroscience from Harvard University, a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Biochemistry from McGill University, and a Graduate Diploma in Clinical Research from McGill University.
What made you choose this path? Why did you want to be involved in this line of work?
My interest in education started when I was very young, I just didn’t realize it at the time. Ever since high school, I would play an active role in my school’s teaching and tutoring programs, often making suggestions and giving advice to senior administrators on how to improve the learning experience for myself and my peers. Fast forward 10 years and I finally realized that I had a passion for all things related to education and learning. I believe that educating the heart and mind holds the key to so many of our needs and challenges around the world today, and I wanted to use that key to make a difference in the Middle East.
I worked in education consulting for several years in the UAE before deciding to launch my start-up, The Mawada Project (themawadaproject.org). It started when I realized the limitations of experiential learning opportunities in the UAE, as well as the lack of service-learning opportunities, soft skills learning and character development for our young population. Students spend most of their time between the walls of their schools, and have very little opportunity to engage with the real world or have meaningful interactions with people from different backgrounds and demographics and give back to their communities. They also often graduate from high school with a lack of the kind of soft skills that will help them throughout their lives. I decided that community service was the best way to tackle these challenges, combining a number of different skills training into one experience.
And that’s what we do today. We find and create ways for children to do good and to serve those who are in need in the community whilst teaching them useful skills that they can use for themselves and that will help them in all aspects of their lives.
To what extent do you believe that this program shapes who a young person is going to be?
We know that the experience of serving others and meeting the needs of those less privileged or less fortunate in one’s community has a tremendous impact on shaping character. By engaging in our programs and in the type of service opportunities we create, we deeply believe that a young person not only gains social, emotional, communication and leadership skills, but also confidence, compassion, kindness and a sense of purpose. And the science shows that these skills and characteristics are crucial for future job success.
Those who engage in these kinds of activities gain social awareness and a deeper sense of social responsibility and global citizenship, all while learning more about different career paths and industries. It’s hard to quantify or capture the impact of such experiences, but we know it when we see it, and those who participate in our programs feel it too.
What is your favourite event or project your organization has held and why?
We’ve worked on a number of projects so far, but we’re most proud of two in particular. One was a summer program, in collaboration with the Sharjah Science Museum, where we had our teenage participants learn how to be mentors and teachers to younger children who needed educational support. We watched them transform and take responsibility for their teaching which was great to see!
The second is our program called “The Gift”. We’ve worked with a number of student groups, schools and organizations, including the Sharjah Girl Guides and the American School of Dubai, to teach children how to make hand-made dolls, write letters and design gift boxes that are then sent to refugee children in countries like Jordan, Lebanon and Greece. This was done in collaboration with The Big Heart Foundation of Sharjah. We’re proud of the shift we see in participants when we have the conversation with them about the lives of refugee children, the challenges they must be facing and our responsibility to do what we can, even if only in a small way, to help make their lives easier and better.
KDSL Global Intern
Facebook: KDSL Global