WILKES-BARRE — Speaking on empowerment and how Arab women can better themselves, Bahraini educator Hanada Taha spoke Tuesday with students at Wilkes University.
The free lecture was the first through the collaboration between Wilkes and the Higher Education Alliance for the United Nations.
Taha, born in Beirut, Lebanon, came from a “poorish” family. Her pursuit of a quality education has allowed her to serve as the director of Arabic Programs at the Language Acquisition Resource Center at the San Diego State University.
She also is acting dean of Bahrain Teachers College of Bahrain University.
Upon being named the acting dean, she broke down her own prejudices on what an Arab woman could achieve. She said about 80 men and 20 women applied for the position.
Aiming to give others insight into a culture characterized by stereotypes, Taha said the key for Arab women’s empowerment lies within education.
“They have to be the masters of their own skills,” she said.
Wearing black slacks, a black blouse and purple blazer, Taha addressed about 40 students, faculty and staff members in the Miller room of the Henry Student Center on campus.
When she thought of her journey, she remembered when it started. It was a story she did not talk about often.
“This was not something I thought about in 30 years,” she said.
It started on a Sunday in November in 1979 when Beirut was plagued by civil war. At age 10, a stray bomb landed in her home, killing her father.
“I witnessed it,” Taha said. She and her brothers were whisked to a neighbor’s home.
“Everyone was talking about what happened,” she said. “They were asking me about what I saw.”
That night, she said, she began to cry, asking to be allowed back into her house to get her red book bag. The adults around her tried to calm her, telling her she was not going to school.
“They were saying ‘You just lost your father. There is no one to take you,’ ” she said.
But in the morning the backpack was there and she did go to school.
“When your losses are beyond your control, you need something to hold onto,” she said. “Something internal changed in me.”
At this point she went from being a mediocre to a great student, earning scholarships to help with the cost of higher education.
Several years later her older brother was killed, and another one was injured by gun fire a year later.
“I lost the people I cared about and had no money,” Taha said. “I had nothing left but my education.”
Today, Taha tells her two daughters she has no inheritance for them, but she will make sure they get a good education. So empowerment, which by definition means to give or bestow an ability, does not sit well with Taha.
“I really have an issue with the word empower,” she said. “Nothing was bestowed to me. It was something I worked for. I worked really hard for it, and I got it.”
Feeling as though the word empowerment stole something from her progress, Taha said no one gave her a career.
“I made it,” she said. “As a woman, an Arab woman, I made it.”