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May Rihani: A World with More Justice! PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 01 January 2010 18:35

Al Waref Exclusive
By Jennifer Young
Al Waref recognizes May Rihani as the Figure of the Month for January because ‎of her many contributions in the areas of educational and economic ‎development, women’s rights and equity, and community building. Her work on ‎the ground, research in the field, and written documentation and analysis of ‎policy have made Ms Rihani a leader in civil society, working for change and inspiring action in others.

Born in Lebanon and raised in a family that valued equality, Ms Rihani has dedicated much of her life to expanding institutions to include once marginalized groups and creating opportunities for young men and women from a variety of backgrounds. She relates, "I grew up in Lebanon in a home where both mom and dad always valued serving others. I was privileged to be part of the family I was born to. The one unwavering value they taught us, by example and deeds and not necessarily by words, is that all human beings are equal regardless of economic background, race, religion, ethnicity, or gender. I believe this foundation is what propelled me into the work I do today." This work is part of a lifetime in which she has been dedicated to her own continued education and expanding the opportunities available to others.

By 1971 Ms Rihani had received her B.A. degree in Political Science and her M.A. in International Relations from the American University of Beirut. In more recent years, she continues to develop her mind and skills with courses on leadership and innovation from Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). This devotion to learning is a reflection of how much she values access, quality, and equality in the educational institutions of the world.

Since 1998, Ms Rihani has been the Senior Vice President of the Academy for Educational Development (AED) and is the Director of the Global Learning Group and the Center for Gender Equity. The projects she has managed and the documents she has written in analysis have added greatly to an international understanding of what is lacking in community and education and what can be done to strengthen societies and systems.

She has  travelled extensively for decades, working in underserved parts of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, overseeing projects with a focus on gender issues, women's leadership, community mobilization, human resources, educational planning, and economic productivity. These projects include multidimensional cooperation with many layers of society including foreign aid groups, government ministries, local community leaders, long-term advisors, and researchers in a number of countries including Morocco, Malawi, Egypt, Jordan, Benin, Pakistan, and Uganda. Her projects include designing models for innovative schools in rural areas, integrating gender and environmental sensitive materials into curricula, and mobilizing stakeholders on the ground to focus on retention rates of students and the relationships between health, economy, and education.

When asked what fuels her energies she responded, "What inspires me is a vision of a world where there is more justice, more equality, less violence, and ideally--even though it might be close to impossible--no wars. This vision inspires me to work and write. Traveling is part of that vision given that I truly believe we are from the East and from the West, we are from the North and from the South. My vision is that one day the human race, us human beings, might accept the idea that nationalism is not important and universalism is what we should strive for." A strong dedication to these ideals of justice and equality can be seen in her writing.

Ms Rihani's written reflection and analysis allows for successful initiatives to affect change in other regions. To date, Ms Rihani has published three technical books entitled Keeping the Promise: Five Benefits of Girls' Secondary Education, Girls' Education Activity: Mali Strategy and Design, and Technical Assistance Program to Support Girls' Education Activity in Guinea. These works focus on the obstacles to equitable education and the potential solutions to these imbalances, which could allow for the emergence of societal reform and new opportunities for the community. At present she is working on essays in Arabic, which would relate similar ideas to a new audience.

This type of multilingual, cross-cultural, and interregional work contributes to Ms Rihani's successes in the field and view of the world. She says, "I do not like boundaries. I like for the East and the West to meet. I like bridges. I like belonging to different cultures. I like when a Moslem woman marries a Christian man, or a Christian woman marries a Moslem man, a Moslem man writes about the importance of Christianity in the Middle East, and a Christian woman writes about the importance of Buddhism in the world. I like to find the common grounds and I do not believe in the clash of civilizations....I know that the common ground among the different cultures is there. It would be great if we all work to discover it and celebrate it." This understanding of the world highlights Ms Rihani's tolerance for diversity and dedication to humanity.

The passion for tolerance and hope for change present in the words and actions of Ms Rihani can be seen in many aspects of her life. This includes the work she has done for several non-profit organizations and in her collaboration with USAID and the United Nations. It has been expressed in her writing, in Arabic and English, research literature and poetry. She has formed relationships between herself and a number of individuals working on all levels of a number of societies to promote exchange and contribute to a stronger world that can be influenced by the human initiative.

Ms Rihani believes in a world that values humanity above all else. This dedication to something better than what is has led Ms Rihani to devote her efforts and her attentions to work for change in a variety of ways while inspiring others to follow her example and strive for a more connected and more cooperative world. Al Waref Institute recognizes the important strides Ms Rihani has made of her own merit and through the encouragement and belief in others; and distinguishes her as the Figure of the Month.


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