By Jane Kenyon, Founder

I landed in Dubai a few weeks ago after midnight to start work on our first ever international programme pilot. The airport was sparkly clean and opulent and the midnight air hit me like a sauna as I got into the waiting car. With only 2 hours sleep I arrived at Dubai College the following morning ready to start 9 days of full on delivery and training and from the outset the team at Dubai College – Head, Mike Lambert, Deputy Head Debs Jones and Head of Careers Cliona McMenamin looked after me and the Girls Out Loud volunteers with enthusiasm, generosity and authenticity.

They demonstrated 100% commitment to ensuring both the Role Model Relay and Big Sister programme were on track for success and I was super impressed with the school’s commitment to excellence across the board.

As a not for profit school with a commitment to pupil development it was clear every penny of the school fees they generated were re-invested in their facilities, teaching resources and pastoral care and the pupils were given every opportunity to step up and shine.

From my first interaction with Year 8 girls I could see and feel this investment. The girls were polite, articulate, excited and present, but I could also see why Girls Out Loud had been invited to deliver our Big Sister mentoring programme, as even though being clever at this school is a given, middle girls still struggle to be seen and heard and experience imposter syndrome and a range of mental health challenges, no different to the situation we have in the UK.

Dubai College is a school renowned for academic excellence. It remains the top performing school in the United Arab Emirates achieving 94% grades 9-7 (A*/A/A) at GCSE and 73% A/A grades at A Level this year. (the last year of public examinations). This is a seriously impressive record but it does mean that girls who are not hitting these highs, feel somehow not good enough and present as quiet and shy; lack confidence; lack the courage to assert themselves; tend to follow the viewpoints and interests of their more confident peers; may be overly influenced by the expectations of parents rather than following their own path and stay safe as opposed to trying new things.

Enter Girls Out Loud with our focus on supporting middle girls to learn, lead and thrive. What is clear is that middle is the middle no matter where you live and the middle can be a lonely and confusing place.

Choosing our final 20 girls to join the Big Sister programme was pretty heart-breaking as 78/84 girls put their hand up for support at the Role Model Relay event and then submitted moving personal statements to win a place. This was followed by more emotion as the Dubai College team and I then spent 4 hours matching the Little Sisters chosen with the amazing posse of Big Sisters we had trained earlier in the week – phew!

However, all our tenacity and attention to detail paid off as we observed our Big and Little Sister pairings getting to know each other at the launch. The buzz in the room was palpable and the Head gave a rousing speech to the girls about girl power!

Now the Dubai College team will manage the next 10 months with Girls Out Loud HQ support and I will fly back in May 2023 to host the final graduation and facilitate the evaluation process for our pilot programme.

Before I left for my return trip to the UK the Head asked if we could start another programme in January 2023 and work with them over a longer period to ensure that middle girls at Dubai College get the extra support they need to find their voice, be more visible and feel truly empowered, so we are now planning to do it all over again and some!

Dubai it’s been emotional!

My lasting memories of Dubai are the blistering heat, 42° on most days, the impressive and constantly expanding skyline, especially at night, the service culture, the potential to have absolutely anything delivered to your door within 30 minutes and the super clean, super sparkly and super-efficient airport.

Until next time….

If you would like to participate in this programme in 2023 please complete the Volunteer Application form here.