A few weeks ago I was invited to give a workshop on the importance of writing to a group of 30 high-school students from Dhofar who were participating in a leadership programme in Salalah.
Before I delve into details, let me make one thing clear. I am terrified of public speaking. It took me about four days to sum up the courage to accept the invitation.
Convincing my paranoid self that someone doing a post-graduate degree in leadership studies might have something useful to offer these kids was not an easy task. And anyway, I hadn’t done nearly enough volunteering this year so giving this workshop would make me feel better about myself, right?
As the workshop date drew closer, I started receiving more information about the intensive two-week leadership programme. It covered everything from volunteer work with the municipality’s cleaning crew to lectures on the Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teenagers. This project was the brainchild of a friend of mine who is probably one of the most proactive people I’ve ever met. A PhD student, he is passionate about education and intends to become Oman’s minister of education in the future. I chose the word ‘intends’ instead of ‘hopes’ because I am confident that he’ll work day and night to achieve that dream and become one of the drivers of educational reform in Oman.
On the day of the workshop I nervously downed three mugs of coffee as I reviewed my materials and activities chart before heading over to meet the kids. As someone who spends very little time with teenagers, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Would I succeed in engaging them? Are any of them interested in writing? What if - heaven forbid - they spend the whole time tapping on their cell-phones? What if they don’t have a sense of humour? What if the girls were too shy to participate in front of the boys? These obsessive questions were swimming around in my head as I dragged my materials to the lecture hall.
As it turned out, I ended up spending my day with the most enlightened young people I have ever met. They asked a million questions and were eager to soak in everything I had to say. It was evident from the moment I stepped into that room that these weren’t just any ordinary kids. They were carefully selected from high schools across the governorate of Dhofar for their leadership potential.
Over the course of the workshop, I told them about my journey with writing and how I ended up becoming a columnist. We talked about the importance of having good writing skills in order to get ahead in life, and our longest discussions revolved around the importance of writing for Dhofar.
Fortunately, these enlightened teenagers understood my message. The south of Oman is an amazing place and we are doing next to nothing to document our culture, way of life, language, and history. Unless we start putting things down in writing now, we are going to lose huge chunks of knowledge about this part of Oman.
The young leaders were also eager to talk about current issues and changes in society that need to be written about. None of them shied away from bringing up even the most difficult topics including witchcraft, tribalism, slavery, human rights, and even Wasta.
Although still in high school, most of them could boast more achievements and interests than all my friends put together. A couple of them are already writing novels and a few write poetry. One of them was studying the historic presence of the Portuguese in Dhofar in his own free time and another kid even co-wrote the script for Dhofar’s first movie.
Their future plans cover everything from becoming university professors and brain surgeons to publishing books, travelling the world, becoming movie directors and establishing Dhofar’s first reptile museum. In other words, they are incredible.
After the workshop, I spent nearly an hour driving in circles around Salalah trying to process everything. I was quite literally blown away. In fact, I am still blown away by their sharpness, talent, confidence, energy, and discipline. Looking forward, I intend to dedicate more time and effort to working with young people because clichés aside, they truly are the leaders of the future.