It’s important to have a strong support system in your life, especially when you’re trying to figure out who you are. Whether it’s by our family, friends, or even our colleagues, as human beings, we need to feel like we’re part of a safe, non-judgmental environment with people who wish us well. That’s why The Protégés is such an important program in Kuwait! The concept, started in 2010, offers a six-week intensive experience for Kuwait’s young adults ranging between the ages of 16-24. During these six weeks, The Protégés embark a journey of life lessons that many people accumulate within thirty years of their lives! They learn about confidence, empathy, professionalism, and other character-building traits that aren’t always easy to obtain.
This character building program provides cultural and professional activities within six weeks, including Music Day, (a day for the group to celebrate their roots in traditional garb, enjoying cultural music with their families), interactive lectures on behavioral habits given by dedicated mentors, and a memorable group trip to Sweden and Denmark where they were not only exposed to adrenaline inducing situations, but moments of depth and trust that bounded and strengthened this generation’s bond and trust. In addition to their endless supportive nature and positive attitude, Generation 5 of the Protégés is also a philanthropic bunch! With their latest project in the works, the group has been vehemently working towards supplying reading material for the underprivileged. They’ve created a book-donating kiosk whimsically named Raqsh (a type of Arabic calligraphy). “Our plan is to start out with four scattered around Kuwait (one will be in The Avenues). We’re designing an audio/visual interaction with a message to thank the donor to show them how their deed has impacted somebody positively, maybe by stating a statistical fact about whom they’re saving and why. It’s important- like saying ‘by donating this book, you just saved one underprivileged child from a lifetime of ignorance’. We also want to implement a personal touch to the kiosk, a voice thanking the donors in our Kuwaiti dialect- just to make it a little more relatable.”
We had the pleasure of interviewing three Protégés of Generation 5 (or G5): Ahmed AlQallaf (University Graduate) Abdulaziz Al Ghannami (High School Student) and Rawan Aldhahi (Law Student). Upon meeting The Protégés, it’s safe to say that they have exceeded our expectations. This group of individuals is a breath of fresh air to Kuwait’s community, and if the three we’re speaking to is any indication, we’re glad to see that each generation is only getting stronger. The Protégés as a program is also reminiscent of a gender-neutral, good-doing and non-judgmental Sorority/Fraternity in Kuwait as all past and future Generations want to help each other succeed. This becomes evident as they keep insisting, “once you’re a Protégé, you’re a Protégé for life.”
What inspired you to apply to be a part of The Proteges?
Ahmed AlQallaf: First, I found the ad on Twitter, and the idea stuck with me, as I was about to graduate from university. Throughout this period, I was wondering what I wanted to do with my life, and also noticed things about myself that I wanted to improve and was inspired to change. I thought I would give this a chance, and figured if it didn’t work out, it was worth a try.
Aziz Al Ghannami: To be honest, I was sitting in the car with my mother. She gives me her phone and says “look at this, apply, so you can change your personality.” I forgot about it for three months, and then when the deadline was approaching, I found the cutout on my desk.
Rawan Aldhahi: I saw an ad on OSN three years ago, and it seemed different than the other youth programs offered in Kuwait. I also heard of it through past Protégés and it sounded like it would be a life-changing experience.
When do you feel The Protégés program is challenging? Do you ever feel that its not challenging enough?
AAQ: I didn’t really believe that I was going to turn into the person I am now. I wasn’t the best at focusing before this, but all the lectures and activities had inspired me to learn how to focus.
AAG: The whole thing was challenging. The second you enter the interview; you feel a burst of challenge to get through each step. The whole thing is a step and it’s a transition. Every challenge you can feel in the span of 30 years is compressed into 6 weeks. The highlight of my challenge would be singing ABBA’s ‘I Have a Dream’ in public, in Sweden, in costume.
RAD: One of my biggest fears is public speaking, and there was a session in Sweden where we had 7 minutes to prepare a 4-minute presentation. That day, I faced my fears without limits and gained so much support.
What keeps you going in the program?
AAQ: The fact that we were all in the same boat in terms of finding ourselves.
AAG: Positive energy. Obviously there were tough moments, but you knew that no matter what we worked towards, it would be okay. The whole experience broke away the barrier of embarrassment and introduced us to the wall of life.
RAD: I liked that we never knew what we were going to do the next day. The mentors would give us a dress code and we would come in wearing what we were assigned- it kept the experience new and exciting. The people I met were amazing as well; I feel like I have a new family.
What was the most valuable lesson are you learning from this program?
AAQ: On a personal scale, I would dismiss the concept of time management. This program has changed that, and I’ve improved my time management skills. I’m also very good at seeing people’s points of view. It’s opened up my mind to the world.
AAG: Learning about impact and awareness- realizing how people impact each other and being aware of your surroundings.
RAD: Crossing my limits. You’re never going to know if you don’t try. Be yourself. Being in a community like The Protégés is the best place where you can discover yourself- people support and mentor you. If I have a dream, I know I can achieve it. I’m my only obstacle.
What was the best moment you experienced in the program?
AAQ: Every single memory I have in this program lights my day, even when it gets difficult.
AAG: The public speaking session. You could see people changing in an instant- the quiet and reserved found their voices. You could see the change in every single person who stood up and spoke about something they were passionate about.
RAD: Once, when we visited Stockholm University, we had to discuss the ABBA project. We needed someone to manage the discussion of the project. When someone volunteered me, everyone was so supportive. They believed in me and knew I could take control.
AAQ: All it takes to inspire somebody is supportive eye contact and a smile!
Would you say that being a Protégé has impacted your life?
AAQ: Definitely. I’m more encouraged to try different things and give things a chance.
RAD: I learned how to look at situations from a different perspective.
How do The Protégés help Kuwait grow as a nation?
AAQ: If everyone does what The Protégés could do for Kuwait, it would be good. I think the impact has already started.
AAG: It’s a butterfly effect. In ten years, there will be an extra 125 Protégés. These 250 people in Kuwait’s society would have spread the word in some way, and at least a bit of awareness, acceptance and appreciation would have rubbed off on society, creating a network of openness.
RAD: I agree, as it’s never too late to change. Everyone has their own skills- everyone has something to bring to the table. You don’t need to justify yourself to anybody or justify anybody’s actions.
Would you recommend this program to a friend or family member?
AAQ: Of course I do! Everybody: apply, apply apply!!
AAG: Everyone needs to join! It’s not restricted just to age- I could impact society and so on, it’s a domino effect.
RAD: Yes! Whenever I’m with anyone between 16-24 I encourage them to apply.
What makes the perfect Protégé?
AAQ: From what I’ve learned in the program, you need to see the good in everyone. I don’t want to put anyone in a box, but if I have to answer this question I’d say that you should have a positive attitude.
AAG: Be you, because everyone else is taken. It’s about being yourself and that’s how the doors will open to you. You shouldn’t categorize anyone.
RAD: Positive energy, a positive attitude, and no judgment. Be open to new experiences.
What’s next after graduating from The Protégés program and how will you use what you’ve learned for your future?
AAQ: The Protégés experience never ends, so I’ll always be a protégé. I’m hoping to find my passion and live with it, and expand my horizons.
AAG: It’s about giving back. The small scale is our project; the big scale is our collective impact. It’s about giving and taking. I’m willing to discover and I’m willing to make mistakes.
RAD: When you become a protégé, you’re a protégé for life. We have an alumni gathering where all the generations meet together. It’s like a new chapter, but it isn’t the end. “The beginning of a lifetime of friendship and family” there is no end.
Any words of wisdom for the next generation?
AAQ: “It’s something unpredictable, but in the end it’s right, I hope you have the time of your life.”
AAG: You’re a seed- allow yourself to grow, and you’ll turn into a fruit.
RAD: Open your minds and look at the world you’re living in. You have your whole life to change what you don’t like and achieve what you want to go for.