A passion for gender equality issues has landed former Al Mawakeb School Dubai pupil Sarah Al Shair, 20, the chance of a lifetime as a participant in the inaugural leadership programme at the Madeleine Korbel Albright Institute for Global Affairs.
The Jordanian national is currently a student at Wellesley College in Boston, Massachusetts, which has produced some of the world's most influential women including former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
Selected as one of 40 candidates, Sarah began the three-week intensive programme last week. It is designed to educate young women for positions of leadership. With her experience, she hopes to return to the Middle East and tackle women's issues.
"This experience signifies something I never thought I would do," said Sarah. "I never thought I would make it to the States."
She said her pursuit of higher education in the US happened on a whim. "I wasn't in the plan at all."
However, she seized a great opportunity when she applied to the Albright Institute programme due to a strong interest in global issues in gender equality.
"My background had a big influence," said Sarah.
Born in Jordan, she was raised both in Saudi Arabia and the UAE. "I've grown up in the Middle East for a long time… and plan to go back home after college," she said.
Sarah, who is studying a double major in studio art and gender studies, will join a group of five female peers to tackle the issue of HIV/Aids and malaria prevention.
Each group in the winter programme will investigate an issue in line with the 2010 United Nations Millennium Development Goals (UNMDG) to subsequently be placed on a ten-week internship during the summer. The girls will attend sessions with a total of 35 speakers. The idea is for them to research their respective issue to finally develop their own policy to be presented to Albright the institute's distinguished visiting professor during this first year.
Sarah said she relishes the challenge of thinking of global issues from a place of authority.
"They are giving us all these tools and putting us in contact with all these influential people to think about these issues for ourselves," she said. "I have to actually think about my role in solving all these global problems."
Sarah said the institute's initiative is of great importance because she hopes to intern in a women's rights non-governmental organisation (NGO) in countries such as India or Uganda.
"The whole point is to encourage women to become political leaders in the world."
She said 17 of the 40 students on the programme are international and added: "It will be interesting to see the ripple effect this college will cause."
Hoping to continue her education to the doctoral level, Sarah, whose family lives in the UAE, hopes to return to the Middle East and deal with gender issues.
She said although figures may show huge enrolment numbers of girls and women into schools and universities across the region, "there still remains a shortage of women in positions of power and authority in the Middle East", and it is of grave importance to ask why that is the case.