The Houris of Makkah

Makkah's first team of women volunteers carries out a thousand activities


Saudi Gazette

THE first ever team of female volunteers in Makkah was established about 13 years ago with the membership of just three women. That number has now reached 156, says Abeer Fikaira, the founder and chairperson of the group called Houris of Makkah.

Fikaira told Saudi Gazette that the team was named the houris (nymphs) to confront the negative stereotypes and bring joy to the people.

"The idea of a women volunteer group was not very common at the time but I have been able to overcome all the barriers and obstacles to build our team," she said.

Fikaira said she started her team with three members, which went up to five and then 22. "We now have 156 members," she added.

The team leader said her idea was to set up a team of volunteers from among young women in Makkah to cooperate with the public and private sectors and also with the non-profit organizations to carry out initiatives aimed at developing the holy city through the activation of the youth power.

"I wanted the team to be the first partner in all development projects and initiatives in the city," she said.

Fikaira said the goals of women volunteers included improving the image of Makkah, encouraging investments in the city by local and foreign investors, supporting productive families, making Makkah the first friend of the people of special needs and creating solidarity among the members of society.

She said the team was under the umbrella of the Society of Youth and Culture before it was shifted to the Ministry of Education.

"We now have numerous offers from many parties wishing to sponsor us and we are in the process of choosing the best of them," she said.

Fikaira said the team participated in more than a thousand initiatives, including relief efforts during the Jeddah flood crisis of November 2009. It also organized parties and social gatherings for orphans besides repairing and furnishing the homes of poor people.

She said transportation was hitherto the main problem faced by the volunteers, who had to seek the help of their parents or husbands to move around or reach the places where they wanted to carry out the volunteer work.

Despite many obstacles they faced, many young Saudi women are in involved in volunteer work. About 2,500 women volunteers participated in last year's Haj rendering various services to the pilgrims.

The volunteers spread out around the Grand Mosque in Makkah a few days before the Haj rituals began, mainly helping elderly and sick pilgrims.

The volunteers also worked in the holy sites of Mina, Arafat and Muzdalifah. They stayed for three days in the Jamarat area of Mina and when the vigil in the tent city ended they moved back to Makkah to be with the pilgrims until they left the holy city.

The women volunteers who were stationed at the Jamarat area had expressed their happiness and pride in serving the guests of God by providing them with various services, including medical and humanitarian assistance.