The mountain was harsh. While the breeze is cooler than that in Muscat, the sun's rays still hit you differently. But none of them seemed to mind.
Under the shade of mountain pines, 18 girls coming from different governorates all over Oman sat in a circle on mats that had seen better days — a sisterhood of women out of their comfort zones thrust into the wilderness of Jabal Akhdhar discussing strengths and weaknesses, figuring out who they are and what they are capable of.
The girls hiked all the way to that far corner of Khab al Hail, a flatland in a remote corner of Jabal Akdhar only known to the locals in the mountain. In that temporary stop, their black and red backpacks were neatly stacked up into a pile. Their food was minimal sending a clear message that it was not a luxury vacation or glamourous camping in the mountains but rather a retreat with a goal that all the girls had been very aware of even at the onset.
Their instructor told them that it is important to know one's strengths and weaknesses — part of the exercises that Outward Bound Oman made the girls do so that they can get to know themselves better as it is from this discovery of self that one learns to be better. In front of their peers, they contemplated their traits and knowing that they are in a judgement-free zone, shared their weaknesses, offered a few suggestions on how to overcome them and together, they celebrated the strengths many of them realized are shared.
The girls only met for two days yet the budding friendship and shared respect made it appear as if they knew each other for quite some time. These girls were selected from the more than 500 applicants of the pioneering batch of Sidrah — a programme for young women hatched by Lahunna Oman in partnership with Outward Bound Oman and Singapore’s National Youth Achievement Award (NYAA), the second-largest National Award Authority in the world, not just create and support the Omani women visionaries of tomorrow but leaders who can give back to the community and position young women as agents of change in a country that is fast developing.
The programme created for them not only tested their physical limits but also pushed their mental fortitude. They were all given different responsibilities, one served as a leader, another looked after logistics, and communications and some were in charge of the kitchen all imitating roles in a community.
On Day 2, their day was packed. In between mental exercises and scenario-based activities, they had to hike a few kilometres to get from one campsite to the next and at night, they had to create their own village of tents where they had to look after their needs, prepare their food and trust in each other's capability to perform the role assigned to them to ensure their safety.
"They were provided with the tools so that they can navigate the outdoors. They have their maps and GPS and everyone is assigned a role in their team. We have a leader, and we have people in charge of logistics, and communication, through the experiential learning method, we are not just telling them about the importance of distributing different roles to the team but we are actually making them do and practise those roles," an instructor from Outward Bound Oman shared.
Sharifa al Kindi, representing Lahunna, explained the rigorous process the girls had to go through to be part of the programme. Not only were the girls selected based on the governorate they came from, but they were also assessed based on their visions, community involvement, passions and ability to communicate.
As a developmental coach, Sharifa believes in the vision of Sidrah to empower young Omani women and believes in the potential of the programme to change lives and opportunities for young women leaders in Oman.
A potential CEO among them
Despite the challenging situations they were put in, all the participants agree that they love every step of the way of the programme as their minds are being opened not only by learning themselves but by unlocking their potential.
"For me so far, it's really interesting because we are meeting new people and are constantly challenged to keep moving and are put in circumstances that we have to adapt. It's fun overcoming these challenges and discovering that we have it within us to solve difficult situations. It's also a joy to meet all these new people," shared Marya al Shaibani.
"It's a great experience finding out who we are and the potential of what we are capable of doing. The activities that we do here, are really enriching us a lot," said Yaqeen al Zadjali.
"To be part of the programme, the process was really easy. We have to fill out this online form. In the beginning, I thought it was all a joke. There were questions that we had to answer. I remember two of them being, 'What do you think is a problem that hinders Omanis from advancement?' and another more personal one is "What are your future plans in 2040?" It was only later that I realised that this was something serious. The Sidrah programme is more than just a hike and doing outdoor activities," said Marya.
Being a part of the programme, "The number one thing for me is learning about leadership and how to be a good leader. I also want to see my limits and go above them. This is what this programme is helping me understand better," Yaqeen.
"I think overall, I want to develop my confidence in presenting myself in front of people. I'm really grateful for this opportunity where we are given life lessons that we can take with us as we advance to the world," shared Naama Al Naemi.
Asked if there is anything an Omani woman cannot do, the three girls are in unison that the programme has thought them early on that what they have on their minds can be a possibility.
"As young Omani women, I believe that there is nothing impossible as long as we put our minds to it. It's all about being focused and dedicated. Sidrah is the perfect place that showed us that there are always people willing to help and support you, all you need to do is reach out to them and take to heart the things that you learn along the way. With enough guidance and support, there is nothing that cannot be done," said Yaqeen.
Asked if one of them will become a CEO of a company one day, the girls said, "Definitely."
"All of us!" They said in unison.
The first step to success
In the next few days, the girls faced a few more challenges. They were visited by rain, a curve ball no one expected of which they had to adapt and take some of their activities indoors.
With their raincoats on, there was no stopping them from doing the different workshops and activities that were outlined for them by Outward Bound Oman. As seen on social media reporting their progress, they remain in good spirits doing the activities despite facing environmental and logistic issues.
Shatha bint Salim al Maskiry, the founder of Lahunna Oman, shared in a previous interview that "the young women will experience this unique learning journey which will increase their self-awareness, allow them to develop new competencies, and introduce them to genuine project-based learning."
After completing the four-day experiential learning with Outward Bound Oman, the women will move on to the next stage.
"Throughout their journey they will be closely coached and mentored, expanding their network with sessions with ministers, under-secretaries, CEOs and entrepreneurs. All Sidrah women will gain relevant insights about themselves and their country; they will be poised to assume the role of change agents in their communities," Shatha shared.
"We hope Sidrah will inspire them to positively contribute to Oman’s renewed renaissance with a sense of pride, confidence and patriotism," she added.