Running Together, Growing Together

June 3, 2016

We often dream of changing the world, but rarely are we given the opportunity to do so.  However, with the arrival of the n-mu critical thinking program in Kuwait, we are one step closer to achieving those dreams.

n-mu is an intensive training program that is aimed at enriching a generation with the tools they need to be elements of positive change. The program provided a four-week long training and then gave us the opportunity to work in teams to develop and implement a community project responding to a locally identified need.

I first heard about n-mu — which means “I grow” in Arabic — through a friend. Initially we were skeptical — both about being selected to join the program and our goal of changing certain aspects of the society we find ourselves living in.

On the first day of training, we were asked to describe what we thought could be improved within Kuwait, and how we would go about it. We all started off with really big goals that in the end were narrowed down to what was achievable and sustainable.

After discussing topics such as critical thinking and advocacy, we were asked to brainstorm what we wanted to change within society and analyze  our proposed solutions through different perspectives — including how we would incorporate social media as a tool for change, and how would we go about educating and influencing our opponents to see our point of view. My idea, Sustainable Youth, had little opposition.

When the time came for final topic selection, the participants were broken out into smaller teams. Some groups struggled while others seemed to work in perfect harmony. Ideally, someone presents an idea that others buy into, and group members provide their input in harmonious synergy. This is what happened in my group. We all agreed on the idea, the best way to implement it, and took the sustainability of our idea into consideration.

At first, it seemed unbelievable that a large group would put forward — and agree — to only 4 or so ideas, but somehow that is what ended up happening. Nature took its course. And believe it or not, everyone gained, even those whose ideas were not taken to the next level.

From the get-go, I knew what I wanted to do. Naturally leaning towards sports and fitness, I thought there was a need to highlight the importance of physical activity and health, and I tied in its relationship with mental health to further promote the concept as something unique and different. Many people lead a sedentary lifestyle; we sought to disprove the false impression that a gym membership is required to stay healthy.

Sustainable Youth was the first running event of its kind in Kuwait: a free 5K race that encouraged the participation of children as young as 8 all the way up runners with years of experience and everyone in between. Individuals were grouped into four teams, and the concept was simple: you are only as fast as your slowest team member. To even the playing field, we distributed a questionnaire to determine the age, gender, and physical fitness of all participants, and took these factors into consideration when forming teams. Participants gained points as they crossed the finish line; the faster each team member completed the race, the more points their team received.  Everyone received a gold medal with a small etching of their team’s placement. In the end, you won based on your team’s effort as well as your own.

Captains were selected to motivate the teams — and the rest, as they say, is history. We distributed a survey afterward to gauge people’s reaction to our event and it was overwhelmingly positive. So many of the respondents wrote about the feelings of camaraderie, positivity, and teamwork they experienced at the race and many said they were inspired to continue running.

Now the goal is to sustain this initiative throughout the year, to keep people physically active.

To keep people growing.

To n-mu.

Ayman Nassar, a 30-year old Egyptian living in Kuwait, describes himself as a rubix cube of pursuits and passions. He is an internal auditor by profession, a writer at heart, and a runner by passion. He maintains a personal blog on life in Kuwait through the eyes of an expat and began an initiative called Q8FootSoldiers, one of the first running groups started in Kuwait.