Neighborhood centers should serve the community


Okaz newspaper recently reported a statement of Jeddah Governor Prince Mishal Bin Majed. In an address to the residents of Jeddah, Prince Mishal, who is the head of the branch council of the Association of Neighborhood Centers, said: “Preserve neighborhood centers.” He called on residents to actively participate in the activities and programs of centers to increase the cohesion and togetherness of the population of Jeddah in order to make it a more positive and model city.

Prince Mishal made the remarks during the signing ceremony of four agreements between the Jeddah Mayoralty and the Association of Neighborhood Centers at the headquarters of the governorate. He said that setting up centers and parks in neighborhoods provides a healthy environment and serves to raise the standard of living of those who frequent the centers, especially the youth. He pointed out that experience and studies have shown that providing such centers results in an improvement in the standard of education, health and sports.

According to the agreement, signed by Jeddah Mayor Saleh Al-Turki and Secretary General of the Association Dr. Abdullah Al-Ghamdi, the mayoralty will hand over a number of sites to the association in order to establish and develop parks and playgrounds in a number of neighborhoods.

It is good to see cooperation between the mayoralty and the association especially in the field of setting up parks and recreational facilities, but can we ask whether these centers have sufficient material and human resources to implement the projects outlined in the agreements signed by the mayoralty and the neighborhood centers. Are neighborhood centers responsible for setting up or developing parks? Is it not in the jurisdiction of the mayoralty to develop, maintain, water and take care of parks and other recreational facilities?

It should be noted that there is a special department in the mayoralty for handling parks, including their landscaping, maintenance and watering. And Jeddah Mayoralty supervises hundreds of neighborhood parks, some of which suffer from negligence and have been ransacked while other are still being taken care of.

What prompted the mayoralty to ask neighborhood centers to establish and develop these parks, especially considering that these centers do not have adequate material and human resources for carrying out these tasks? Moreover, these centers are not available in all neighborhoods, and in some districts, they are not active due to their lack of resources.

In most cases, these centers do not have their own premises or headquarters. Some of them function in rented buildings, while others do not have premises that would enable them to carry out their responsibilities. And many neighborhood centers do not have lists of neighborhood residents even though each center is named after its respective neighborhood.

These centers are supposed to encourage residents of the neighborhood to engage in the activities of the center as well as to benefit from these activities but unfortunately this is not actually the case, as most residents do not have anything to gain from these centers mainly because of the fact that these centers lack the necessary basic facilities. On the other hand, if these centers had been equipped with facilities for sports, social and recreational activities, residents of the neighborhood would have found themselves competing with each other to benefit from these facilities. They might even have contributed so as to help meet the expenses of these activities.

Hence, I think that there are priorities that the centers should undertake before they enter into partnerships and agreements with the mayoralty or other bodies. It is important, first of all, that each center secure suitable premises either owned or rented, and then make a headcount of the residents of their respective neighborhood, including citizens and residents, and register all the information about them and invite them to participate in the activities of the center. In this way, these centers can take advantage of the capabilities and potential of the residents in their neighborhood. These centers could also encourage residents to volunteer their time and effort to help make social, sports and recreational activities possible.

Neighborhood centers could take advantage of the active involvement of expatriates and at the same time allow them to integrate into Saudi society and benefit from it, especially in terms of acquiring proficiency in the Arabic language. This is relevant when considering the fact that many of these expatriates have lived among us for many years but find it difficult to express themselves in Arabic. It should also to be noted that their children who have been born and brought up in this country have not acquired proficiency in the Arabic language.

When I have asked some expatriates why they had not acquired any knowledge of the Arabic language, their reply was that they had not found an atmosphere conducive to doing so. I think that neighborhood centers could provide them with the right atmosphere in this respect. These centers could be instrumental in imparting a great service to our expatriate brothers and in this way, neighborhood centers could perform a duty to the Arabic language and culture of Saudi Arabia.

Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi is a former Saudi diplomat who specializes in Southeast Asian affairs. He can be reached at