Making connections, Aramco student shares his volunteering experience in South Africa

Aramco student Turki together with school children in a classroom in South Africa

At twenty years of age and in his final year of study at the University of Manchester, Turki is proving to be an asset to the Company in more ways than one.

While many students on strive for academic excellence, Turki has already achieved this and been awarded best chemical engineering student in his year group, for two consecutive years. Above all, his most profound moment while out of Kingdom did not come in Manchester, a place he considers a second home, but in South Africa, where he spent part of his summer volunteering in Muizenberg, a coastal area near Cape Town.

Turki, a committed volunteer in his spare time, spent his summer holidays teaching English, Math and Science at a local school, set inland from Muizenberg’s sandy shoreline. “I’ve always found value in ‘giving back’ and teaching is something I enjoy but South Africa opened things up far more, because of seeing what life is like for those living on the other side,” he says. Turki’s allocated school was one of the poorest in the surrounding area. He was placed with a class of ten-year olds, assisting with their day-to-day curriculum, and it is where he began making those important connections.

“Before we began teaching, the organization which had arranged our placement, emphasized on our ability to connect with the children,” Indeed, volunteering and the connections it brings are vital for a school that has little resources to call upon, even for student lunches, which are sparse. “Their school meals are minimal, often just bread….yet the children are somehow so appreciative. It made me realize how materialistic the world can be and how we in other parts are never satisfied, compared to children here [in Muizenberg], who have next to nothing.” Turki added that the smallest of acts, whether it be simply reading to them, or accompanying them to the beach, were met with the utmost gratitude.He was also informed that different and sometimes surprising behaviors from the children were to be expected, given the difficulties some of them have already been through at a young age. “There were children who had lost parents to gang related violence, others to drug addictions and those whose lives continue being damaged by both.”

“So teachers do try and keep the kids in school as long as they can, as it can often simply be the safest place for them,” Turki adds. It is not just safety however but also attentiveness, which makes the school vital to young lives.

“You can actually feel it, giving a hug to one of the children can change their whole day, they are just so happy, because many are missing affection they don’t receive in other places. It’s these things that are the most difficult realization”

Turki Al-Mathami - Aramco sponsored student

Indeed, the surrounding disparity, visible while teaching at the school, was something Turki remains acutely aware of. “South Africa is a beautiful country but like many destinations, when you visit on vacation, you only see the beautiful places. Even in Muizenberg, you can see the beaches with their restaurants and literally a few kilometers away are areas that feel like a different world.” Turki underlined how very basic living standards such as access to water, or sheltered places to sleep, were in short supply. “These things you are aware of, through the media, through the Internet but witnessing it first hand, it really hits home.” Joining him at the school were volunteers from all over – fellow students, working professionals taking time out, and even retirees still keen to give. “I may well have been the first Saudi to have volunteered at the school, it was great to engage with similar minded people from all over, including Spain, the United States and Australia, who had all come here with a sense of purpose.”

“And for me building a strong personal connection with the children – to the point where they leave you messages, or ask how long you are staying for…it's these small connections which had the greatest personal effect. Also the backgrounds they came from, often very harsh, gave the experience a great amount of worth.” Turki admits that it is definitely something that has resonated deeply, allowing him to recall his time in South Africa so vividly.

“I would certainly say to people around me that if you have the free time, just try something similar, as it changes perspectives, helps you develop as a human being.” He emphasizes how he has become far more appreciative in his day-to-day activities and continues valuing his experience, as it allowed him to see firsthand, the testing circumstances others face.Turki has previously volunteered in the Kingdom, including raising awareness about major medical issues such as cancer, yet South Africa remains his most significant undertaking. “It was those one-on-one connections with the children, becoming deeper as time went on, that was the most important thing to happen. And I'm still connected,” he adds.

“I still exchange messages with the teaching staff I worked with and given the chance to volunteer again, I would want to return to Muizenberg, picking up where I left off.”

Turki's time in South Africa speaks directly to Aramco's value of citizenship, which includes giving up time and resource in support of people and causes who are less fortunate. Indeed, Aramco across all its locations, including Europe and the UK remains committed, through its students as well employees, to supporting good causes, underlining our role as a global citizen.