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Volume 55, Number 2March/April 2004

In This Issue

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Reader's Guide

By Julie Weiss

For students: We hope this two-page guide will help sharpen your reading skills and deepen your understanding of this issue’s articles.
For teachers:
We encourage reproduction and adaptation of these ideas, freely and without further permission from Saudi Aramco World, by teachers at any level, whether working in a classroom or through home study.


Analyzing Visual Images

Some articles are easier to illustrate than others. The photos that accompany “Silver Speaks” artfully show what the jewelry in the article looks like. “Humanitarian to a Nation” is a different story. Beyond the story of the people behind Pakistan’s best-known charities, it focuses on abstract concepts—charity, medical care, self-help. How can you show these visually? Flip through the television channels or look at magazine articles about medicine: You will probably see a lot of high-tech equipment and skilled professionals behind surgical masks. How are the patients shown? Abdul Sattar Edhi stresses self-reliance, self-help and mutual help between the providers of a helping service and those who receive it. How might such a philosophy influence the kinds of images a photographer makes? Might it influence the pictures an editor chooses? Look at the photos that accompany this article. How many of them include people? What kinds of things are going on? How many focus on equipment or objects used to help people? How many include Edhi? How many include medical professionals? Choose one of the photos that depicts self-help and explain how it does so. Include both the subject matter and the formal composition of the photo. How did the photographer use lighting, color, camera angle and focus? How do these elements underscore Edhi’s philosophy? What kind of attitude do you think the photographer had? What other kinds of attitude might another photographer have, and how might the story look different?

Class Activities

The activities in this section are designed to engage students with the material in Saudi Aramco World while encouraging them to connect it to the larger themes they explore in their other studies. This month’s activities revolve around two basic concepts: Social Welfare and Culture.

Social Welfare

Definitions of social welfare vary, but for these activities, use this one: Social welfare is the organized provision of financial help and social services to those in need. This edition of Saudi Aramco World reports on an example of social welfare in Pakistan.

What is social welfare? What might substitute for it?

“Humanitarian to a Nation” describes how one man, through his leadership, has developed a national social welfare network in Pakistan. Thinking about his example, do two things: Brainstorm as many examples of social welfare as you can. Have someone write your examples on chart paper. Then ask yourself in what other ways people might think about the services on your list. For example, say your list includes helping people who need food. In the United States, this need is often met when the federal government distributes “food stamps” that act like money for certain items in a grocery store. There are also “food banks” where people can go and pick up basic groceries for free—sometimes from churches, mosques or temples, and sometimes from private groups not unlike the Edhi Foundation. Some countries don’t have any government-funded programs to get food to the poor; others have more. In some countries extended families or neighbors feed those who don’t have enough. In some, it’s acceptable for people to beg for food. Or maybe farmers leave fruit or grain where the poor can gather it. Go through your list, and see if you can come up with alternatives to all the social welfare services on it.

Who should provide social welfare?

There’s no one answer to this question. Start with Abdul Sattar Edhi. Who would he say should help those in need? Reading between the lines of what he’s done and said, why do you think he has chosen the approach he has? Other people believe that governments should provide social and economic services. To find out why, do some research on this perspective: What kinds of attitudes toward government social services are held in the United States? Compare those with both Pakistan and Sweden, which has one of the world’s highest levels of government-sponsored social welfare. When you’re done, split up into pairs, and role-play a conversation between Edhi and a proponent of government-sponsored social welfare programs.

What role does—or should—self-help play in social welfare?

Edhi says, “Self-help. That’s the best way to get back on your feet.” What examples does the article provide of people helping themselves? What examples does it provide of Edhi and his colleagues giving needy people the tools to take care of themselves? Is there a downside to self-help? Resume your roles, and go back to your conversation. What might a government official say about self-help? Why do you think that’s what he or she would say? Role-play the dialogue on the subject of self-help.

What role do—or should—volunteers play?

Volunteers play a major role in Edhi’s social welfare network. With your partner, discuss the benefits of having volunteers staff social service centers. Discuss drawbacks to relying on volunteers.

How are social services provided in your community? Who provides them?

Using the examples of social welfare you came up with, assign different students to find out how different services are provided in your community. For example, you might find out about orphan care, health-care services, food assistance programs, unemployment assistance and so on. Use the questions in this section of the Reader’s Guide to guide your research. Present your findings to the class.

What generalizations can you draw about social welfare in your community, based on your class’s research? Working on your own, write a two-page article about an aspect of social welfare or a prominent social welfare leader in your community, using “Humanitarian to a Nation” as your model. You may elect to visit the institution or person as part of your article.


Several articles in this issue of Saudi Aramco World look at culture, which we’ll define as a people’s shared values, beliefs, traditions and behaviors. It also includes their “products”—art, literature, technology and food. Explore culture using the following activities as your guide.

What does a cultural artifact tell you about the society that produced it?

Begin with “Silver Speaks,” which asks a more specific question: When silver jewelry was popular in the Arab world, what did it reveal about the women who wore it? Read the article, highlighting where it explains what wearing different types of jewelry meant, as well as when and where women wore certain pieces of jewelry. With a group, generate a list of jewelry that means something special in your culture. For example, in most parts of the world today, a ring worn on the fourth finger of the left hand declares that the wearer is married.

Now think more generally about what you and your friends wear. Imagine you are silver collector Marjorie Ransom, and you have just arrived for your first visit at a school in a place you’ve never been. Look at what the students are wearing. Describe as much as you can in writing. Include articles of clothing (e.g., pants, dresses, shirts, socks); accessories, (e.g., hair clips, belts, hats); jewelry and hair styles.

Then team up, having one person take the role of Ransom, while the other takes the role of a student at your school. If you are Ransom, plan for the interview by writing a list of questions you would like answered. Write your questions using this format: Tell your interviewee something you’ve observed, and then ask him/her what it means. For example, “I see that some people have holes in their earlobes, and they hang jewelry from them. Why? And why do only some people do it? Does someone who wears ear jewelry have higher status than someone who doesn’t?” If you are the interviewee, the questions will probably sound funny—because you take your own jewelry for granted. It seems completely normal to you, but to an outsider, it might be as mysterious as Arab silver jewelry was to the Ransoms.

Though you can’t hold it in your hand, the Maltese language is as much a cultural artifact as silver jewelry. The people of Malta are well aware of the significance of their language’s Arabic roots, as “Europe’s New Arabic Connection” reports. Explain the following sentence: “[M]any Maltese [are] simultaneously proud and worried about the cultural symbolism their language holds.” First, what is cultural symbolism? Second, what is the symbolism of an Arabic-based language in a European Union nation?

How does an object communicate the time and place of its making?

When you look at a piece of jewelry or clothing, do you think about who made it? “Silver Speaks” reports that it’s possible to identify the region in which certain pieces of jewelry were made. What causes jewelry to have a regional look? Why do you think someone might want that information?

To answer the question, think again about your objects. What, if anything, do you notice that’s different about a pair of five-dollar, mass-produced earrings and a handmade pair that might cost $75? What about large gold ones that might cost $500? If you see someone wearing one or the other, how does it affect the way you think about that person?

People in heavily industrialized countries seldom know how their cultural “stuff” is produced. But in earlier times, and in many not-so-industrialized countries today, people nearly always know who made their things, because either they made them themselves, or they acquired them by trading with the person who made them.

Do a bit of hunting and see what you can find out about your stuff. Pick one to three objects from your house or your school. Find out where each was made, how it was made and as much as you can about who made it. It may take some effort to get answers. A pair of jeans might have a tag saying it was made in Indonesia, but you might have to do some digging to find out if it was in a factory or by someone who worked at home.

Report your findings to the class. Explain how you found your information. Does knowing who made something you own change the way you think or feel about it? Does knowing where the person was, and what the work was like, affect you? How does it feel to walk around looking at things and knowing—or asking—who made them, how and where?

What role does culture play in defining and maintaining a people’s identify?

What does identity mean? It’s an abstract concept, but it’s so important that countries have gone to war to protect it. Start on the individual level. If someone were to ask, “Who are you?” what would you say? What records (e.g., passport, fingerprints) identify you to others? Beyond your “official” identity, how do you express who you are? For example, do you participate in rituals that identify you as part of a religious group? Do you dress a certain way or hang out in a certain place to identify yourself as part of a group of friends? Come up with four unofficial ways you identify yourself. What would you do if someone tried to take away any one of them by telling you that you couldn’t dress this way or talk that way or go here or there? What, if anything, would you do to stop them?

Now think about identity on a larger scale. Groups of people have identities, too. Malta, for example, like other members of the European Union, faces the question of how to maintain its uniqueness while it becomes part of a larger political bloc. How important is maintaining its language to maintaining Malta’s identity? If you have trouble thinking about this, think about your own or others’ experiences with language. If you have lived in more than one country, you probably know more than one language. If you haven’t, think about people in your community who are bilingual. How important is it to maintain your/their original language in a new place? Why might they choose to do this—or not do this?

Reading this edition of Saudi Aramco World, find examples of parts of culture that contribute to defining and maintaining a group’s identity.

Julie Weiss Julie Weiss is an education consultant based in Lowell, Massachusetts. She holds a Ph.D. in American studies and develops curricula and assessments in social studies, media literacy and English as a Second Language.