Saima Khan: Making The World A Better Place Through Social Work

As individuals, we all try to live our lives more holistically and are constantly on the hunt to find our purpose, however, due to daily routine and struggles, it sometimes gets difficult to look at the bigger picture.

Social work, in particular, has and continues to play a large role in the overall development of society as well as the world.

Being a humanitarian is not an easy task, as the role requires constantly putting the needs of other people first and individual wants second, as well as witnessing things that are not easy to digest, making it a feat that not everyone can accomplish.

One such example is Saima Khan, a 24-year-old Indian resident brought up in Dubai, who encapsulates what it means to always look at the bigger picture and strive to fight for the rights of all, regardless of how difficult it may be.

Having started her inspirational journey earlier than most people by finding her purpose in humanitarianism, Saima has since dedicated her life to helping people in need, in any way she possibly could, whether it was starting her own company and arranging beach clean-ups, to helping on a large scale by being a UN delegate representing Dubai.

Saima said, "Humanitarians sacrifice their time, health, effort, their needs and wants to be there for you."

Saima's journey started in 2011 at the age of 13 years old, and began during the summer break, when her parents wanted her to find something productive to do rather than spending all day watching television and doing nothing.

In 2011 over ten years ago, the resources to work or volunteer were scarce, especially for people aged 18 and younger. After painstakingly searching, Saima was able to land a job volunteering, helping out with people of determination.

Saima said, "That event really changed my life. I remember how moved I was, and I kept thinking, we get a certificate, free food and a cool shirt, and I am going to come back and get all my stuff. But that was the first time I came back, and I actually forgot about my electronics because I was so moved and it was a different world that I had not seen, living in four walls."

It was then that Saima decided that this was what she wanted to do for the rest of her life, trying to make the world a better place for everyone to live in.

While obtaining a degree in Business Administration in 2016, Saima simultaneously networked and built her portfolio by volunteering and doing social work, quickly becoming affiliated with over 65 organisations.

As a social person, networking and interacting with others came easily to Saima. However, she quickly realised it is not the same for everyone, with some needing time to communicate effectively. 

While studying, Saima, alongside two friends, sensing a gap in volunteering, decided to create a place for the youth to come and help do their part.

And from there, Step Up Dubai was created, however, to make it official, they set out to get licenced by the Community Development Authority (CDA) in Dubai.

Being a difficult licence to procure, at 17 years old in 2016, Saima and her friends, with no prior knowledge, had to make sure all the documents and information required, from referrals, an office space, financial and budget plans and more, were submitted.

Despite being rejected around 17 times due to age restrictions and several other reasons, Saima refused to give up, saying, "As we are lacking in one criteria, let us super succeed in all the other areas."

Simultaneously, Saima continued building her career and, in 2016, at 17 years old, was appointed to represent Dubai as a UN Delegate for Goal 1 of the Sustainable Development Goals, which is 'No Poverty'.

Being the first to get selected for a unique opportunity as a delegate from Dubai and completely new to the environment, at the conference, the appointed delegates worked towards policy-making exercises and discussed what policies government bodies should implement.

With the UN Delegate title, Saima was then able to get the licence to Step Up Dubai, leading to a series of events and activities to bring the youth together and give them a platform to give back to the community.

While reflecting on her struggles to get licenced, Saima shared that although it was difficult being constantly rejected, due to age and many other factors, she wanted to be able to give the youth a voice and a space to truly make a difference and see the rewards of contributing time and effort to doing social work.

Saima said, “I was determined to keep going, with or without support.”

Despite getting the licence, there were many other hurdles that Saima had to face to make her dream a reality.

Initially, without funding and having recently entered college, Saima worked part-time and put all her money into growing the organisation.

Eventually, she saw the rewards, with Step Up Dubai growing and being associated with over 4,000 volunteers, 30 schools, and ten universities and was funded by big corporations, with regular beach cleanups, parties for people of determination, youth talks and more hosted.

Wanting to do more in her humanitarian journey, Saima decided to tackle larger and hard-hitting issues like poverty and hunger and, not wanting anyone to change the company's morals, decided to stop Step Up Dubai this year, and help crisis-hit countries.

Currently working as a Community Outreach Specialist at the Muslims Around The World (MATW) Project, she travels to crisis-affected areas and experiences the struggles the people residing there are going through, to help better cater to their needs.

MATW works on several projects, from building water wells, to setting up farms for farmers to generate an income rather than only providing meals, as well as creating rainwater harvesting systems for countries with ample of rain.

Additionally, Saima helps on the ground with countries that are affected by floods, earthquakes and other natural disasters, witnessing the pain and loss undergone first-hand, saying, "I do take care of my mental health and take time out especially to cater to it. There are deaths, you see children in a very bad situation, and sometimes you need to control your tears and remind yourself of why you are here and what you are doing."

Additionally, Saima takes inspiration from the past and is moved by how humanitarianism helped her find her purpose and shape her life, said, "Pursuing humanitarianism has really changed my perspective. The person I was before and the person I am now, I am shocked at how a privileged girl like me has changed. My career goals, personality and thought process have changed and opened the correct lens for me."

Saima understands that social work is not made for everybody but encourages people to do their part in making the world a better place to live saying, "Always start with something small. Some people have a lot of time and not enough funds, so I recommend them to give in their time and for some people that have a lot of money, then put in the money."

As she started volunteering at a young age, Saima understands the struggles of the youth and hopes that companies and corporations help accommodate the younger generation in striving to make a difference. 

Saima, since beginning her journey, has made it her mission to help in a big way for the greater good and aims to continue to make a difference in crisis-affected lives, with the goal of one day holding a policy-making position at the UN.

Looking to Saima as an example, as she mentioned, volunteering is the best and most rewarding way for everyone to help out, irrespective of age or gender, as well as is an eye-opener to the struggles people undergo and allow us to become a more receptive, supportive and accommodating community.

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