With 200 trees planted, $5,000 raised, and three cleanup activities executed, Taiz, Yemen, is flourishing with a greener landscape, increased funds for a cancer hospital, and restored public and private spaces.
Graduate School alumnus Ammar Al-Hawi ’10 said his experience at Valparaiso University was the inspiration behind these changes.
“My time at Valpo provided me the honor of becoming a social redeemer and healer in my home country,” Ammar said. “I used the experience I gained to volunteer my work and participate in community service projects to promote several social activities in my native city.”
Ammar attended Valpo on a Fulbright Scholarship and earned his master’s degree in English Studies and Communication. Since returning to Yemen, he’s become involved with AMIDEAST, a non-profit organization that promotes educational and cultural exchanges between the United States and Yemen.
While at Valpo, Ammar was inspired by the University’s commitment to serving others through hands-on activities. In his current position with AMIDEAST, which encourages Yemeni students to pursue the kinds of opportunities that brought Ammar to Valpo, he demonstrates a commitment to service and is developing new initiatives, from planting trees to restoration activities to Yemeni-American cultural awareness sessions. As a lecturer in the English department at Taiz University, he also has the opportunity to share the lessons he’s learned with his students.
“My decision to join the Graduate School at Valparaiso University had a great, positive impact on my whole life — not only personally and academically, but also socially and culturally,” Ammar said. “My experience as a graduate student enabled me to enhance my personality and enrich it with a new sense of maturity and vitality.”
As a Valpo student, Ammar developed a close connection to the campus community that supported and encouraged him. One of his most memorable experiences, Ammar said, was the launch of the ‘Donate a Book to Yemen’ campaign, which collected approximately 3,000 new and used books on American and English subjects to send to a university library in Yemen.
In particular, Ammar is grateful for the support from his “American sister,” Professor Lynn Grantz, who was a Peace Corps volunteer in Yemen and taught English there prior to teaching at Valpo. The two connected through discussion of the Arab country and its culture.
Professor Grantz said Ammar was beloved by all of his classmates and that he seized every available opportunity to learn about United States life and culture.
“Although he loves his country very much, Ammar always called Valpo his second home,” Professor Grantz said. “He was a wonderful ambassador for his country and shared many ideas to bring Yemen and the United States together.”
In Valpo’s graduate school, Ammar’s studies, he said, sparked a desire to strengthen the cultural understanding between United States citizens and people in Yemen. His experience was so profound that he feels a sense of personal responsibility to educate his peers and Yemeni students about American culture and clear up possible misunderstandings or misconceptions.
“He’s doing great things with his students — helping them to develop their English skills, find opportunities to study abroad, and think critically,” Professor Grantz said.
Ammar said that his Valpo experience had a tremendous impact on the trajectory of his life, and he hopes to convey to his students the lessons he learned at the University. While charity and giving back to others is a common theme for the predominantly Muslim country, Ammar said it was at Valpo that he learned the importance of hands-on service. He recognizes that service activities are more than trees planted or money donated — that when you serve others, you can change their lives, and your life will, in turn, be changed.
“These service activities greatly impact Arab students,” Ammar said. “Not only do they help the students realize the importance of volunteer work, but they also contribute to enhancing the students’ cultural and educational awareness. These students will eventually realize their individual significance in the advancement of their local society, and they will also recognize their important role in bridging any cultural misunderstandings between their Arab community and other communities in the world.”
Ammar has certainly come to understand his own role in the world, and by sharing the lessons he learned at Valpo with students who will carry his mission forward, it’s certain that many other lives will be touched by this experience.