When Lothan Youth Achievement Center (LOYAC) started its activities in 2002 with one part-time employee and 120 beneficiaries, no one would have thought that the Kuwaiti organisation that wanted to pre-emptively prevent violence and extremism by educating the country’s youth would have hired 65 full-time employees, reached over 150,000 beneficiaries and opened three branches by 2018.
If LOYAC is growing at the speed of light, it is also thanks to the seven Kuwaiti women who founded the organisation. Shocked by the 9/11 attacks they came to recognise the need for a platform where youth could grow and flourish in a nurturing environment. “We thought that 20-year-old people involved in terrorism, instead of killing and ending their own lives, should start their own families and prosper at a professional and personal level,” Fetouh Al-Dalali, one of the enthusiastic and charismatic founders and executive board member, tells Scene Arabia. And so the organisation was born, conceived in Kuwait but with an aim to expand across the Middle East.
Our resources in Kuwait will run out and all we will be left with is our talent.
Though the catalyst to creating the organisation was September 11th and it was formed as a proactive response to the horrifying events, the NGO’s goal was more than to promote an overarching message of peace; its core aim is both personal and professional development for Arab youth. It was a way to keep kids productive, far from the types of paths that can lead to things like terrorism.
“LOYAC started as a way for the youth to grow in a place where they can receive guidance, help and support in all aspects of their lives and flourish as global citizens,” Al-Dalali highlights.
Origins & A Mission to Empower Youth
When LOYAC started its activities in 2002, it consisted of a single program that allowed the enrolled youth to do internships. 16 years later it has expanded to 15 different programs, both at the local and international level, that cover scholarships, a huge variety of internship programmes, sports, and a social entrepreneurship program in collaboration with Boston university, just to name a few. One of the key aspects of LOYAC’s innovative approach is encouraging volunteering community service, a facet often sorely lacking across the Arab world, and wiping the stigma that is often associated with service-oriented jobs in Kuwait.
“We design and offer programs to facilitate the professional development and personal growth of the youth starting from the age of 5 until the age 30,” Al-Dalali explains.
LOYAC also manages three main initiatives in the country: the LOYAC Academy for Performing Arts (LAPA), the AC Milan Football Academy, and Al Shaheed Park, a brand new park which is the largest in Kuwait City.
Since their launch in Kuwait, they’ve opened four branches across the Middle East; in Jordan, Lebanon, Yemen, and most recently in Egypt. “Our aim is to expand to each country of the region,” explains Fetouh with a touch of pride. On the way, they’ve won a slew of awards, including a Best Practice certificate from UN Habitat in 2010, and ‘Chaillot Special Mention’ by the European Union for their promotion of human rights in 2015.
This NGO is building a generation of hard-working, tolerant, talented and socially conscious people. This is a success story in a region starved of success stories.
Despite already establishing itself as one of Kuwait’s and the region’s paramount organisations, they intend to continue growing, adapting to the specific climate of the Arab world, and the particular needs of each country they have a presence in. “As youth’s ideas are always changing and growing, we need to respond with new programs and approaches,” Al-Dalali explains. “Our initiatives also take into consideration the unstable politics of the region. We are for instance planning on launching a fund for the higher education of stateless people (Bidun) and other Arab nationals in Kuwait.” This fund could prove vital to ensuring a future for a large swath of the young population in the tiny nation, since the Kuwaiti educational system only grants scholarships to its citizens – and two-thirds of Kuwait’s population consists of strangers.
As youth’s ideas are always changing and growing, we need to respond with new programs and approaches
LOYAL will also launch another fund, this time for the empowerment of young professionals. The fund would offer higher education scholarships for courses and majors that are not included in the curriculum of Kuwaiti universities nor eligible for Ministry of Higher Education scholarships, such as Drama Therapy and NGO Management. It would also cover workshops and short courses for crafts and animation.
As is the case with most NGOs, life is not a path of roses, and the organisation’s existence comes with a set of challenges. “We lack training and workshop rooms, as well as a theatre for our drama classes, sufficient offices for our staff, and a football pitch for our Football Academy,” Al-Dalali admits. A large part of this is financial; since the vast majority of LOYAC’s programs are totally free of charge, they depend entirely on beneficiaries. The non-profit sector is always in need of financial aid and sometimes ambitions exceeds budgets.
A Life Dedicated to Volunteering
The numerous challenges, however, have never stopped the founders from staying actively involved with LOYAC. “During the 16 years I’ve spent supporting LOYAC, I am still touched whenever I can work with the kids and can observe the changes in and the blossoming of their personalities,” Al-Dalali says simply. “Some time ago I got to know a 19-year-old boy who had attempted suicide three times. I enrolled him in different programs at LOYAC, ranging from personal and professional development to arts. Afterwards, LOYAC also sponsored his university studies. Since then, he’s actually turned his life around; now he’s a successful businessman and a loving father.”
Our initiatives also take into consideration the unstable politics of the region. We are for instance planning on launching a fund for the higher education of stateless people (Bidun) and other Arab nationals in Kuwait.
Founding and supporting an NGO for close to two decades requires a certain type of drive in a person, a certain outlook on life. “Ever since I was a child, I would let other kids win when we played – that made me happy,” says Al-Dalali, “As I grew up, like most Arab kids, I learned about various conflicts such as the six-day war in 1967 and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – the invasion of Kuwait in 1990 thought, I witnessed firsthand. All these horrific events made me want to be involved in volunteering.”
Working and volunteering at such a young age, uncommon in Kuwait at the time, cemented a strong work ethic and social conscience in me
The same goes for the dynamic people that volunteer with the organisation alongside her. Abdullah Behbehani started volunteering when he was only 13 and continues to do so at 30. “Working and volunteering at such a young age, uncommon in Kuwait at the time, cemented a strong work ethic and social conscience and continues to act as a compass for how I conduct myself both personally and professionally,” he explains. The longtime volunteer is an ardent advocate of how the organisation is actually capable of affecting change; he believes his helped him develop leadership and teamwork skills in his own job and wants to encourage more people to join to keep the cycle going.
“LOYAC is the microcosm of a country because its programs cover such a wide range of experiences,” Behbehani says. According to the devoted volunteer, the NGO is not just doing a good job, it is doing a necessary job, through its investment in human capital. “Our resources in Kuwait will run out and all we will be left with is our talent. This NGO is building a generation of hard-working, tolerant, talented and socially conscious people. This is a success story in a region starved of success stories.”