Student charity wins a president's praise

Groups from around the world - but just one from the Middle East - meet for Clinton Global Inititiative University.

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DUBAI // Students from the American University of Dubai (AUD) showcased philanthropic projects to Bill Clinton in San Diego last week and, in return, were inspired by the former US president.

The group of 10 represented AUD at the fourth annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative University, launched in 2007 to engage future leaders from campuses around the world.

More than 1,000 students from 50 US states and 90 countries came together to discuss issues including education, the environment and human rights.

AUD was the Middle Easts only reprentative. The university was invited by Mr Clinton, who attended its 2002 graduation ceremony.

Each year since then he has sponsored about 30 students from the US to study at the university, aiming to bridge the gap between East and West.

Afrouz Saleh Tabari, 27, a first-year student, said she had always wanted to meet Mr Clinton.

"He was so inspiring," she said. "He really knows and believes in these issues he's speaking about.

"This project is such a good thing, to make young people think about people other than themselves. It makes us aware of all the things we can do to make a difference."

Urshida Lele, president of AUD's International Aid Society, said the trip had helped the organisation to develop fresh ideas and find new solutions to challenges.

"We're discussing issues that are close to our hearts, such as poverty, education, the basic necessities in the world which people aren't receiving," Ms Lele, 20, said.

"We can see how to better utilise things such as social media to promote our projects and turn our ideas into action."

The society has projects in the UAE and abroad.

Last year, students began teaching English to labourers in Dubai in an attempt to help them find better jobs.

"We've had a lot of assistance from the teachers here who have helped us to do the lesson plans," Ms Saleh Tabari said.

"We want them to be able to do jobs that aren't as tough as construction, such as driving taxis and even cleaning, where they need to have a certain level of English, so we focus on the kind of English that will help them, like directions or using an ATM - the essentials."

Two years ago the society began a school building project in Cameroon, which is nearing completion.

"We're coming up with ideas to help people," said Armena Shah, 21, a third-year finance student. "It's not just about giving money, but also about dedicating time and learning about commitment."

Last year AUD raised about Dh28,000 for flood victims in Haiti and this year the university sent money, clothing and food parcels to victims of the Pakistan floods.

Ms Saleh Tabari said she had gleaned important life skills from her membership of the society.

"We're learning to manage projects, budgets, people, irrespective of profit. These are skills we can take with us."

Peggy Awad, AUD's external relations manager, accompanied the students to San Diego. She said it was important for them to feel able to help, regardless of wealth or social class.

"They understand that they can make a difference, whether it's through giving money or time. But they also understand the concept of commitment, of seeing an initiative through to the end, and of thinking outside the box to seek solutions and study the society around them better."