Any given meeting with Shamael Al-Sharikh, regardless of its brevity, will leave you buzzing with positive vibrations. The cynics will quip that anyone involved in the realm of community work is inevitably jaded, yet Shamael possesses an untarnished enthusiasm for change; realistic, hopeful and more importantly, actionable.
Since her early college days at Tufts University in the United States, Al-Sharikh found the power of community and volunteering by devoting her time to causes that included women’s rights groups and student Islamic organizations. As a Muslim Arab female, breaking the stigma of positive and negative extremism motivated Al-Sharikh to be a part of change. She states: “You have to be able to maintain your own identity, and embrace the customs of the people of the place you’re in.”
Upon moving back to Kuwait as an adult, Al-Sharikh began a career in the oil industry, which was both challenging and time-consuming. However, she still found her niche own in joining the Women Cultural Social Society (www.kwcss.com), an organization to which she loyally gives back.
“They were never condescending to me because of my youth. Instead, they appreciated my enthusiasm and nurtured my passion for volunteering, offering me invaluable knowledge in the field.”
From then on, Al-Sharikh delved further in her volunteer work, where her involvement with college student groups about awareness of the Kuwaiti democratic process and the Constitution ignited her passion for positive political change. She also wrote a weekly socio-political column for the Kuwait Times from 2006 to 2009, in order to keep non-Arabic speaking Kuwaitis and expats abreast of current affairs in the country.
Al-Sharikh is now advocating positive political activism through involvement with the most recent youth-oriented initiative organized by the Amiri Diwan, the National Youth Project. The project aims to mobilize young Kuwaitis to be a part of a nation-wide conference in November that will express many issues pertaining to their hopes, opportunities, and aspirations. She excitedly states: “After this conference, the National Youth Document produced will be handed to HH the Amir, and a permanent youth council will be appointed to develop a continuous dialogue between young people and the government. I’m absolutely thrilled about this initiative, as we are trying to create change wherever change is possible.”
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Happiness is waking up every morning healthy. Happiness is knowing that your loved ones are safe. Happiness is having loved ones.
What is your greatest fear?
Loss of anything (my faith, my health, my sanity, my optimism, my ability to see the big picture, my conviction that no matter how bad things get, there will always be a Higher Being who will pull you out of it)… and cockroaches.
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
I am a horrible judge of character. I give people the benefit of the doubt, only to find out that they are neither worth the time nor the effort. I can be too trusting of strangers and yet- and I am ashamed to admit this- not trusting enough of those who genuinely care for me.
What is the trait you most deplore in others?
I wish I could hone on one particular trait, whereas in fact, there are many traits I deplore. I deplore cowards who cannot stand up for themselves, let alone others. I deplore aggressive domineering types who believe the world revolves solely around their own individual interpretations of matters. I also deplore selfish human beings, because when you cannot give part of your time for someone, you will never be able to give part of your soul.
Which living person do you most admire?
I am one of the very few Kuwaitis that grew up- and still is growing- with not one but two living people I admire: my parents. I admire my father for his dedication to his career and for raising five children on a strict work ethic that is not exactly common in this part of the world. I also admire my mother for teaching me that you can be feminine but assertive; you can be sensitive but thick-skinned; and you can be intelligent but not condescending to others. I am the product of two kindred, complementing spirits, and for that, I am eternally grateful.
What is your greatest extravagance?
Shoes. I’m damn near shameless about it. I should seek professional help.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
I don’t really have any catch phrases, probably due to cruising through life as an Arabish speaker (half-Arabic, half-English.)
When were you happiest?
Every time I am unrestrained by worries, I am happy.
Which talent would you most like to have?
Cooking. I would love to be one of those individuals that can take some shrimp, some strawberries, and a wok, and can whip up an exotic dish on the spot. Alas, my cooking skills are focused on sandwiches and the occasional omelet.
What would you consider your greatest achievement?
I don’t think I’ve achieved thus far, and I am comfortable with that. The minute we start to believe that we have achieved “our greatest achievement”, we become complacent, if not arrogant. Life is better lived as a series of happy accidents rather than calculated events.
Where would you most like to live?
At the risk of sounding clichéd, I will venture out and say that I would choose to live in Kuwait. For all the insanity, the sheer incompetence, the continuous instability, and the slow regression from good to awful, this corner of mother Earth is the only home I ever want to live in. I see in it a glimpse of hope in the rebirth of a state that will eventually go back to its roots of tolerance and acceptance; hope in a mercantile system based on the principles of fairness and justice (not godforsaken wasta); and last, but not least, hope in a people that will embrace and capitalize upon their diversity, instead of compartmentalize themselves for it.