November 16, 2016: Opening Eyes in Dubai

After bidding Bahrain a fond adieu, our TEACH Fellowship delegation proceded to the global crossroads of the region – Dubai, the richest of the United Arab Emirates.  On first blush, the city itself is sprawling and urban and at the remove of the airport gives no sense of the opulance and glamor with which it has branded itself.  Though it definitely seems prosperous.  

It reminds me a city in China, where I used to teach English (shameless plug, my book is available for cheap on Amazon)…  Flush with new wealth – car dealerships and fashion goods, with fast food ranging from TGI Fridays to Jollibee, which serves the large Filipino population, who fill many jobs in service and labor here.


Streets are filled with cars, horns squawking for attention and satisfaction, the whole impression is one of tremendous life.  More than two and a half million people call this city home, at least temporarily, and is often the case with economic immigrants, maybe longer than they ever originally planned – at least until the money runs out.

In the midst of all of this hustle, The Abdulla al Ghurair Foundation for Eduation is working to provide a free, high quality university education to deserving students throughout the Arab world.  The administrators of this Dubai-based organization describe their ideal awardee to us, pointing to member of the inaugural cohort of recipients – a Syrian refugee residing in Dubai who ended up taking two years off of formal school in the midst of his plight, working in his spare time to complete online classes to better himself.  They are looking for young people who exhibit not just intelligence, but also determination and resourcefulness in pursuit of education and self-improvement.  Our conversation revolves around how to help these students succeed when they are sent abroad to American universities, far from the support of family and friends in the Middle East – place as alien to them as Dubai is to us.

It was truly an honor to be some small witness to the worthy, challenging work the folks at this foundation are working to achieve.  There is sometimes an attitude among a certain class of Americans that our country has a monopoly on philanthropy and development plans for the world.  That the whole world is just waiting for us to save it.  Why don’t they help themselves, and we’ll help ourselves.  America First.

Generosity and philanthropy are core tenants of Islam – and here we are just hundreds of miles from the site of that religion’s origin, watching those values enacted in the supposed 21st century center of material self-indulgence – Dubai.