Life abroad for someone who can’t speak the native language can be extremely challenging and disheartening. Albaraa Albairuti, a Cohort 15 Communication Leadership student, knows all about those struggles. When he left his home country of Saudi Arabia to come to the United States more than a year ago, he could barely speak English.
“I couldn’t even order a coffee at a coffee shop because I didn’t know how to say it in English,” Albairuti said, reminiscing about how the language barrier made even performing daily tasks a daunting challenge.
When he was assigned to create a class project to solve a communication dilemma in a core Communication Leadership class (COM 536: Leadership through Story and Communities: Creativity and the Digital Age), his struggle with adapting to a new environment was an obvious place to start. Inspired by his own experiences, Albairuti sought out a way to provide non-English speaking Saudi Arabians a bridge of understanding to facilitate their time in America.
Sparking a change
Even though there is a large number of Arab people in Seattle, Albairuti noticed that they didn’t know how to reach out and connect to each other. When he came across the Seattle GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) group on Facebook, it only had around 250 members and there wasn’t a large amount of interaction within the group. Sensing an opportunity to make a difference and seeing its potential to be something more, he joined the group and offered to manage it.
What happened after that was a wonderful change in Arab community in Seattle. Albairuti created dynamic interactions with group members by facilitating events such as the exchanging of goods and services and hosting gatherings open to the community. He spread the word about the Facebook group though his connection of friends in Seattle and the response was overwhelming. In the course of three months, the number of members has grown to over 9,000 people.
Albairuti explained that the reason behind the blow-up of the online community was because it fulfilled the unanswered needs that Arab people in Seattle. People wanted to get together and help each other out, but there was no one who would organize events and make it happen.
“People were ready for this service. They just needed someone to take the first step and they’d follow,” Albairuti said.
After building a successful community on Facebook, Albairuti created a website for the community called SeattleGCC.com. The website features a wide range of useful tips about life in Seattle, such as how to open a bank account, information about medical services and public transportation, and locations of halal restaurants, mosque and Arab groceries. Other services offered on the website include airport delivery, book rental, finding housing, and counseling for academic, work related or life issues in general.
When asked how he can manage all of these tasks, Albairuti said that many people volunteered to help. Arab culture played the key role in the success of SeattleGCC community. Albairuti explained that hospitality is a big part in Arab culture, and people are more than willing to help out those in need. Therefore, many people jumped in an opportunity to give a helping hand.
The future of Seattle GCC
SeattleGCC is currently a non-profit organization, and all the proceeds from the provided services goes back to the Arab community in Seattle. Albairuti intends to maintain a healthy community by showing transparency and sincerity in its operations, and said that he already has plans for the future of the community. He has already registered SeattleGCC as one of University of Washington clubs and has established trusted team members who will be ready to take over and continue to manage the community after Albairuti completes his Master Degree and goes back to Saudi Arabia.
In his project, Albairuti recognized an opportunity to answer the needs of a huge population, while utilizing the value and culture of Arab people to create a meaningful community where people genuinely support each other. Even now, he still hasn’t stopped working on improving his community. Albairuti has also launched the SeattleGCC mobile application that allows people to have easy access to the services on the go.
“You know when there is a next step, you have to take it. Don’t stop. Go to the next step and next step.”