Queen Rania urges more civic engagement in an address at American University in Cairo (AUC)

“We need a sense of belonging in our societies and a sense that our societies belong to us.”

March 01, 2010

(Office of Her Majesty- Press Department- Cairo) Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah, on Sunday, urged students at the American University in Cairo (AUC) to look beyond themselves and find inspiration in the principles of civic engagement to work towards the good of their communities, and transform the future of the Middle East.

Delivering an address at the University from which she graduated, Her Majesty underscored the value of civic engagement, reminding attendees that volunteering time and effort to a social cause enriches the lives of those who choose to work for the collective good.

“Often, social progress doesn’t come from governments looking down, directing change. It comes from communities, families, and individuals looking up, driving society forward themselves, fueled by nothing more than an idea or instinct to do good. It comes from civic engagement,” Her Majesty told over 1000 students today.

Queen Rania, who firmly believes that young people have the potential to drive social change, also highlighted the need to reignite this spark in youth across the region. She stressed that more needs to be done, not only in schools and universities, but across the board, for the sake of the region’s common future.

Highlighting the importance of uniting around the principles of civic engagement, Her Majesty said: “I’m tired of the Middle East being perceived as a fractious, fragmented region, when we’re renowned for our loving devotion to our families (…) when our culture is built on a foundation of compassion and charity.”

Further encouraging youth to direct their energy, talents and creativity towards the greater good, Queen Rania called on students to set the change in motion.

She also encouraged universities to integrate public service into their curricula and commended the efforts of the AUC in helping Egypt scale up civic engagement by putting a premium on community service, thus allowing social practice to stand alongside academic theory.

“We need more schools to give credit for community service the same as coursework so the value of volunteering reaches all students. We need more students to recognize the value of civic engagement- both in terms of what it can do to our communities, and also what it can do for each one of you,” she added.

Queen Rania then told students the story of Raghda, a 12 year old Egyptian girl, who later graduated from the AUC to establish Alashanek ya Balady, an organization that encourages students to help lift local families out of poverty.

As Her Majesty narrated the story, she pointed out that Raghda’s motivation to set up the NGO was spurred by a brief encounter she had with an elderly woman living on the outskirts of Cairo.
The little girl met the woman during one of her school field trips in a house with seven children, four bare walls, and no floor.

As the little girl stepped into Um Fathy’s home, continued Queen Rania, the woman greeted her with a warm smile, inviting her to sit beside her.

Um Fathy then asked Raghda to tell her about her life and what was valuable to her. The little girl told the woman she missed the cool breeze of the AC in her home in Cairo, and spoke of her toys, clothes and most prized possessions.

At the end of their conversation, continued Her Majesty, the elderly lady said: “Is that all you have?” Ragdha nodded timidly and the woman then asked her to “look up.”

Queen Rania then paused, smiled and said: “When Raghda looked up, she saw the sky, the house had no ceiling.”

Concluding the story, the Queen explained Raghda’s experience is symbolic of the need to ignite civic engagement among youth: “It is an allegory teaching us that civic engagement is about looking outside the four walls of your life, about looking up and seeing you have no ceiling above you, that you have no limits. It shows us that there’s more to life than possessions; that true value in this world lies in people.”

As she continued to inspire AUC’s student body to make a difference, aiming at an infinite sky of possibilities and potential, she added: “Whatever it is, you can be the spark, the one who sets the change in motion. And together, you can be the generation who looks up, reaches out and lifts our region. Let this be your AUC legacy.”

Queen Rania also took the opportunity to tell the audience about Ahel Al Himmeh, the Queen Rania Award for Community Champions, launched in 2009 to recognize Jordanian individuals or groups who have served their communities in outstanding ways.

Her Majesty spoke about one of the winners of the Ahel Al Himmeh contest, telling students how a 15 year old boy who had been diagnosed with cancer, realized how important it was to dominate and defeat the disease, volunteering his time and efforts to help other patients cope with their traumas. Having won the Himmeh award, Queen Rania then told the students, that Sweilem, now 21, had decided to donate the generous prize to the King Hussein Cancer Centre and mobilize a group of volunteers to support frightened children.