Children in quake-hit Syria learn in buses turned classrooms

Pupils board a bus turned into a travelling classroom reaching children left homeless and school-less at a camp for internally displaced persons in Jindayris in Aleppo. (AFP)
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Updated 25 May 2023

Children in quake-hit Syria learn in buses turned classrooms

  • Traveling classrooms service more than 3,000 children at some 27 camps

JINDAYRIS, Syria: In a dusty Syrian camp for earthquake survivors, school pupils line up and wait for a colorful bus to pull up. Since the disaster hit, they go to a classroom on wheels.
School bags on their backs and notebooks in hand, the children took off their shoes before entering the bus, then sat down along rows of desks fitted inside.
A teacher greeted them in the mobile classroom, decorated with curtains bearing children’s designs, before they broke into a song for their English class.
The February 6 quake killed nearly 6,000 people in Syria, many of them in the war-torn country’s rebel-held northwest, and also left tens of thousands dead in Turkiye.
The Syrian town of Jindayris, in Aleppo province near the Turkish border, was among the worst hit, with homes destroyed and school buildings either levelled or turned into shelters.
“We were living in Jindayris and the earthquake happened... and then we didn’t have homes anymore,” said 10-year-old Jawaher Hilal, a light pink headscarf covering her hair.
“We came to live here and the school was very far away,” said the fifth-grader now staying with her family at the displacement camp on the outskirts of town.
As relief services were set up, she told AFP, “the buses came here and we started to study and learn. The buses are really nice, they teach us a lot.”
The traveling classrooms are a project of the non-profit Orange Organization and service more than 3,000 children at some 27 camps, said education officer Raad Al-Abd.
“The mobile classrooms offer educational services as well as psychological support to children who were affected by the quake,” he said.
More than three months after the quake, 3.7 million children in Syria “continue to face desperate conditions and need humanitarian assistance,” says the United Nations children’s agency UNICEF.
“Almost 1.9 million children have had their education disrupted, with many schools still being used as shelters,” it added in a statement this month.
In northwest Syria alone, “a minimum of 452 primary and secondary schools” were reportedly damaged to varying degrees, the UN humanitarian agency OCHA said weeks ago.
“More than 1 million school-aged children need education support and are at risk of being out of school,” it said, adding that at least 25,000 teachers are also in need of help, including “mental health and psychosocial support.”
On another bus, boys and girls enthusiastically interacted with the teacher, balloons hanging from the ceiling, for lessons that included Arabic, math and science.
Outside in the bare dirt, children sang in a circle and clapped along with the educators.
As the buses left, pulling out through the road running between the camps’ tents, adjacent structures and trees, the children yelled out and waved goodbye.
Jawaher’s father Ramadan Hilal expressed relief and gratitude for the initiative.
“After the earthquake there were no more schools or anything else,” he said. “Even though they wanted to establish schools, they are far away.”

‘The warmth, the goodness’: From Shahrukh Khan to Messi, global celebrities all praise for Saudi Arabia

Updated 25 September 2023

‘The warmth, the goodness’: From Shahrukh Khan to Messi, global celebrities all praise for Saudi Arabia

  • Superstars from film, fashion, music, sports been part of influx into Kingdom
  • Saudi Arabia’s burgeoning cultural initiatives are attracting worldwide interest

DUBAI: Over the years, Saudi Arabia has opened its doors to celebrities and stars from across the world as the Kingdom made its presence known in the global entertainment space. Here are 10 superstars who have visited Riyadh and were left in awe of the Saudi capital.

Sofia Vergara

The US-Colombian actress, most famous for her role in “Modern Family,” is no stranger to Saudi Arabia and also brought her trademark glamor to a promotional video for the VIA Riyadh luxury destination in the Saudi capital earlier this year.

She also dazzled on the red carpet of the 2023 Joy Awards in Riyadh in January. “I would like to dedicate the award to all the amazing women in the Kingdom and to all the women in the Middle East who are building a better future for all the women. Your dreams can come true, and they will if you use the two most important things: your mind and your culture,” Vergara said after accepting the Personality of the Year Award.


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Lionel Messi

While there has been an influx of international football stars joining the Saudi Pro League this year, the Argentine sensation — who plays for Inter Miami — visited Riyadh this summer, along with his wife and kids, for a sightseeing trip.

“The best thing about holidays is spending quality time with our loved ones,” he wrote to his 480 million followers on Instagram. “Flashback to my visit to Riyadh, playing local games and making crafts with the warmest Saudi people.”

“If you are still planning your holidays, head to the cool mountains of (Asir) and chill at 17°C degrees,” he advised his fans.

The pictures feature the footballer playing with his sons and wife Antonella Roccuzzo.

He also shared an image of the picturesque mountains of Asir.

Messi visited the Kingdom in May and went to At-Turaif, the 300-year-old UNESCO World Heritage Site in Diriyah, and also explored some of Riyadh’s more contemporary attractions.

He also went on a guided tour in Diriyah and dined out at Al-Bujairi Terrace.


A post shared by Leo Messi (@leomessi)

Jason Momoa

Back in 2017, “Game of Thrones” and “Aquaman” star Jason Momoa visited Saudi Arabia as part of the pop-culture convention Comic Con Arabia.

“The food in Saudi Arabia is good. I missed Thanksgiving at home, so this was a true substitute,” he told Arab News.

Mada Abdelhamid, WWE star and Momoa’s trainer, posted a photo of himself and Momoa on Instagram, posing in front of a huge plate of traditional Saudi delicacies kabsa and mansaf.

“The before and after. Now this is what I call a FEAST!!!!! Eating like kings over here in Saudi Arabia. We literally couldn’t move afterwards ... but we couldn’t stop eating either. Very fitting that we were over here during Thanksgiving. Our stomachs felt right at home #FeastForABeast,” Abdelhamid wrote.

Momoa also took to social media to write about his experience visiting Riyadh’s iconic Najd Village: “Mahalo Saudi Arabia you treated me like royalty. Aloha to the fans and new friends. I had so many amazing experiences. I’ll be back very soon. Mahalo omar for fattening me up, the food here is amazing @najdvillagesa aloha j,” he wrote, using the Hawaiian words for thanks (mahalo) and love (aloha).

The actor also visited Al-Thumamah National Park during the same visit.


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Steve Aoki

US-Japanese DJ Steven Hiroyuki Aoki surprised fans at the MDLBEAST music festival in Riyadh in 2019 with a special remix of tunes by Saudi singer Mohammed Abdu.

“I love collaborating across cultures, it’s my favorite thing in the world,” Aoki told Arab News at the time.

Aoki, who also performed earlier that year at Jeddah World Fest, said he “loves” the people of Saudi Arabia and that he did not realize he had a huge fan base in the Kingdom.

“It is surprising and incredible … to see so many fans in Saudi Arabia … everyone is so loving and so kind. They are just beautiful people,” he said, adding that he was keen to return to the country for future performances.

“The people want it. You feel the energy in the crowd, they want this kind of music here,” he said.

Aoki also recently performed in Riyadh for a Gamers8 concert and gushed about his experience afterwards. “I love the Saudi crowd. I’ve been playing here since 2019… I did Jeddah, I did MDLBEAST three times. And the Saudi crowd, they’re full of life. They’re an explosion of energy and passion and excitement. And this is what an artist dreams to have... For fans to really express themselves,” he said.


A post shared by Steve Aoki (@steveaoki)

DJ Khaled

Renowned artist and producer DJ Khaled made a surprise appearance at XP Music Futures in Riyadh in December 2022, ahead of his headlining performance at the region’s largest music festival, MDLBEAST SOUNDSTORM.

Coming to the region for the first time, his experience of the culture and people was unlike any other, he said. The quality of life and overarching excitement appealed to the artist. “When we were driving over here and I was looking around, I put my head out the window and somebody screamed ‘Khaled!’ and I appreciate the love, and I said ‘Joe, man, people here are just happy,’” he told Arab News.


A post shared by DJ KHALED (@djkhaled)

Katie Holmes

The popular US actress visited the Kingdom on a trip with British actor Idris Elba and retired French footballer Thierry Henry in 2018.

Holmes took to social media to share several snaps from her trip to Riyadh, waxing lyrical about the architecture in a caption for one photograph, and revealing, for another image, that she was “so grateful for this amazing and inspiring time.” During her visit, Holmes also had lunch with Princess Reema bint Bandar Al-Saud, along with Elba and Henry.

She also opened up about her trip, saying the country was “so beautiful.” “It was a long trip, but I really enjoyed it. I love the women that I met.” 

“It was really inspiring to see these women enjoying the new freedoms they now have and there is a sense of creativity that is happening,” she added.

John Travolta

US actor John Travolta, best known for his starring roles in “Saturday Night Fever” and “Grease,” made his first-ever appearance in Saudi Arabia in 2017 to discuss his career, during a two-day gala event.

Travolta answered questions from fans in the Saudi capital. “I have been completely touched by the warmth and embracing nature of everyone since I’ve arrived,” said the actor at the event titled, “A Night with Travolta,” organized by the Saudi Entertainment Authority.

Jackie Chan

The celebrated actor and martial artist Jackie Chan was in Riyadh in 2019 to accept a Joy Excellence award, and said that he was looking forward to filming movies in Saudi Arabia.

“It’s my first time in Saudi, and I know it’s a big country. After only a few hours (travelling) here and looking at locations I know there’s a good place for car chasing, explosions, action; so, next time, I hope to come back with my crew,” Chan said.

The movie legend — who also visited Jeddah for the Red Sea International Film Festival in 2022 — thanked Saudi Arabia for inviting him to the country, and expressed hopes the Kingdom would become a leading center of regional film and television production.


Shah Rukh Khan

The Bollywood superstar — who most recently shot his upcoming film “Dunki” in Saudi Arabia — visited the Kingdom for the first time in 2019 to accept a Joy Excellence award.

“We have been talking about the hospitality, the warmth, the goodness and the love that has been showered upon us … and for most of us, it’s our first trip to the Kingdom of Saudi,” Khan said at the event.

“Inshallah, we all wait with bated breath because cinema has opened up here in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. You have so many new stories to tell, and we as the world look forward to being of help in any which way we can be of help.”

Idris Elba

The British actor — known for his roles in “Luther” and “The Wire” — first visited Saudi Arabia in 2018 to speak at the launch of the $35 billion “Quality of Life” program of cultural, sports and entertainment initiatives.

“Saudi Arabia gave me an opportunity to make my film here. It made sense on an economical model,” Elba said at the event. “I would definitely be here — why not?”

“Saudi Arabia has an awesome opportunity to spread its culture through filmmaking,” he added.

The actor also reflected on his time in Saudi Arabia later in a podcast.

“I found Saudi was warm and welcoming to me, in a surprising way, if I’m honest,” the actor said during the inaugural episode of a talk show produced by the King Abdul Aziz Center for World Culture, or Ithra.

He went on to explain that it was, “surprising because I wasn’t sure if my work had ever resonated in Saudi.”

Naomi Campbell

British supermodel Naomi Campbell visited Saudi Arabia in 2019, appearing at several events including the Red Sea International Film Festival in Jeddah and a panel discussion titled “Diversity and Inclusion in the Fashion Industry” in Riyadh. 

“I had to actually pinch myself and say I am in Saudi Arabia at the Red Sea Film Festival, the first one ever, this historical event,” said Campbell at the time.

“It’s really about the change that’s happening around the world. I have been doing this for 35 years and I am really honored and happy to be here, still, in the business … and to see the change.”

During the fashion panel in Riyadh, the model discussed her love of humanitarian work, which began in 1993 in Africa with Nelson Mandela, and the resulting cultural influences she has experienced.

“There is a bridge between Saudi Arabia and Africa,” she said. “There are so many similarities and I really believe that Africa can teach the Middle East (about) textile and the Middle East can teach artisan work to Africa.”

Four tombs discovered in Roman necropolis in Gaza

Updated 24 September 2023

Four tombs discovered in Roman necropolis in Gaza

  • Archaeologist Fadel Al-Otol: Discovery marks the first complete Roman necropolis, or cemetery, fully unearthed in Gaza
  • Total number of tombs dating back 2,000 years now stand at 134 since the necropolis was discovered last year

GAZA CITY, Palestinian Territories: Four Roman tombs dating back 2,000 years have been discovered in the Gaza Strip, a Palestinian archaeologist said Saturday, bemoaning a lack of resources that has delayed excavations in the besieged territory.

“With the discovery of these four tombs, the total number of tombs in this Roman cemetery, dating from the period between the first century BC and the second century AD, now stands at 134 tombs,” said archaeologist Fadel Al-Otol.
The discovery marks the first complete Roman necropolis, or cemetery, fully unearthed in Gaza, he told AFP.
“Fragments of pottery and metal pieces used in funeral rituals” have been found in the resting places, added Otol.
The cemetery is notable for its pyramid-shaped tombs. Inside them, a team of technicians, working under the direction of Otol, undertake restoration work using rudimentary tools.
“Two lead coffins, one adorned with clusters of grapes and the other with dolphins swimming in water, were recently discovered on the site,” noted the Palestinian archaeologist, who lamented a lack of financial resources.
The funding for the excavation and restoration work comes from the British Council’s Fund for the Protection of Culture.
Impoverished Gaza, home to around 2.3 million Palestinians, is under a tight land, air and sea blockade imposed by Israel, whose defense ministry controls all crossings except Rafah, which is controlled by Egypt.
The territory has been ruled by the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas since 2007.

Nigerians protest mysterious death of Afrobeat star as police exhumes body for autopsy

Updated 22 September 2023

Nigerians protest mysterious death of Afrobeat star as police exhumes body for autopsy

  • Ilerioluwa Aloba, one of Nigeria’s fastest-rising young pop stars, died last week in a Lagos hospital at the age of 27 after being admitted for an unknown illness

ABUJA, Nigeria: Thousands marched across Nigeria on Thursday over the mysterious death last week of an Afrobeat star whose body has been exhumed for an autopsy as authorities investigate the cause of his demise.
Lagos police said the body of the late Ilerioluwa Aloba, better known as MohBad, was exhumed Thursday afternoon in response to complaints about the unclear circumstances surrounding his death.
Aloba, widely known as one of Nigeria’s fastest-rising young pop stars, died last week in a Lagos hospital at the age of 27 after being admitted for an unknown illness.
Young Nigerians on Tuesday took to the streets in Lagos to demand justice for Aloba, but the protests swelled across the country amid an outpouring of grief – and questions about what caused his death.
The police in Lagos said it received complaints about the singer’s death, leading them to set up a criminal investigations team to “aggregate all allegations, suspicions and insinuations from various sources on the death of the singer.”
Lagos Gov. Babajide Sanwo-Olu said Tuesday he had “instructed that all those who may have played any role whatsoever in any event leading to the death of MohBad be made to face the law after a thorough investigation.”
“I also appeal to all friends and fans of the deceased to stay calm and refrain from making inflammatory utterances and reaching prejudicial conclusions on this matter,” Sanwo-Olu said. “Staying calm and following the process will be our most solemn tribute to the memory of the departed talent.”
The death of the young artist has drawn people — and numbers — to his music.
In one of his songs titled “Sorry”, the late star spoke about coming from a poor background and his struggles to earn a living through music. In another, “Peace”, he spoke of himself as a “survivor... money chaser — faster than a bullet.”

King Charles, France’s Macron hope to build on personal bond

Updated 18 September 2023

King Charles, France’s Macron hope to build on personal bond

  • Charles had meant to make France his first royal visit after his coronation, but the March trip was abruptly cancelled by violent French protests over pension reforms, much to Macron’s embarrassment

PARIS: After flames engulfed France’s Notre-Dame cathedral in 2019, Britain’s future King Charles III sat down to write to President Emmanuel Macron, describing his heartbreak and offering his help and advice on the restoration.
This week, more than four years on, the monarch will tour France on a royal visit and inspect the site of the inferno that stirred memories of the blaze that swept through his own family’s home of Windsor Castle in 1992.
The trip that starts on Wednesday will be filled with many such personal touches and moments of symbolism as Britain and France seek to rebuild ties tested by the bitter and chaotic years of Brexit.
Charles had meant to make France his first royal visit after his coronation, but the March trip was abruptly cancelled by violent French protests over pension reforms, much to Macron’s embarrassment.
On their second attempt, the 74-year-old king and the 45-year-old president will set out to build on a relationship already bolstered by their communications over Notre-Dame and their shared interest in climate and heritage, royal aides said.
Charles and his wife Queen Camilla are scheduled to visit Paris before heading southwest to the vineyards of Bordeaux.
The king, a fluent French speaker like his mother, is keen to walk in the late Queen Elizabeth’s footsteps and is likely to refer to his mother’s deep affection for France, officials said.


BBC is ‘urgently looking’ into issues raised by Brand report

Updated 18 September 2023

BBC is ‘urgently looking’ into issues raised by Brand report

  • Brand, accused of sexual assault, denied all allegations
  • Incidents allegedly took place while the British comedian and actor worked at BBC between 2006 and 2008

LONDON: Britain’s BBC said on Sunday it was “urgently looking into the issues” raised by allegations of sexual assault made against the broadcaster’s former employee, British comedian and actor Russell Brand, who denies the accusations.
Brand, 48, the former husband of US singer Katy Perry, worked on BBC radio programs between 2006 and 2008.
He issued a denial on Saturday to unspecified “very serious criminal allegations” hours before the accusations of sexual assaults, including rape, were published online by the Sunday Times newspaper and later aired on Channel 4 television.
The Times and documentary show Dispatches reported that the alleged incidents had taken place between 2006 and 2013 and said one woman had made an allegation of rape, while another said Brand assaulted her when she was 16 and still at school.
Two of the accusers reported that the incidents occurred in Los Angeles, the paper said.
A BBC spokesperson said in a statement: “The documentary and associated reports contained serious allegations, spanning a number of years. Russell Brand worked on BBC radio programs between 2006 and 2008 and we are urgently looking into the          issues raised.”
Banijay UK, the production company behind a television show once hosted by Brand, said it had launched “an urgent internal investigation.”
“In light of the very serious allegations raised by Dispatches and The Times/Sunday Times investigation relating to the alleged serious          misconduct of Russell Brand while presenting shows produced by Endemol in 2004 and 2005, Banijay UK has launched an urgent internal  investigation,” it said.
Women’s charity Trevi, which helps women affected by violence and abuse, said it had ended its association with Brand, and Tavistock        Wood, a talent agency, said in a statement it “has terminated all professional ties to Brand.”
“Russell Brand categorically and vehemently denied the allegation made in 2020, but we now believe we were horribly misled by him,” it      said.
London’s Metropolitan Police said it had not received any reports in relation to the allegations.
“If anyone believes they have been the victim of a sexual assault, no matter how long ago it happened, we would encourage them to contact the police,” the police said in a statement.