Alumna Breaks New Ground in Saudi Arabia

May 11, 2015

Daniah Ghandour

Daniah Ghandour ’06, ’07GS says Simmons prepared her to make a real difference.

Daniah Ghandour says that when she returned to Saudi Arabia in 2007 after completing her Simmons education – and living outside the kingdom for 10 years – she was prepared both for the cultural adjustment, and her mission: participating in the pioneering work of a school founded by her family. 

“The Help Center is the first private, philanthropic, non-profit organization in Saudi Arabia dedicated to the welfare of people with intellectual disabilities, from as early as birth to young adulthood and beyond,” explained Daniah on a recent visit to Simmons. “My mother, Maha Ghandour, founded the Center, which opened in 1985. Since then, it has worked with more than 500 families. Today, we serve more than 300 students from birth to age 18.”

The Help Center’s groundbreaking work extends to staffing. Daniah says she and her mother, director of the Center, are both focused on “Saudization,” a government employment initiative which includes recruiting and building professional capacity among Saudi women, and having them take on more active roles in Saudi society and the workplace. 

Daniah initially joined the Help Center as co-head of the psychology department, and in that role she made changes designed to make its work “more personal.” Over the last eight years, her role has expanded to include support across the Help Center for students, parents, and staff and more hands-on teaching, including behavior therapy and communication skills. Daniah is now head of psychology as well as an educational consultant.

“Through a holistic approach, we provide a range of both educational and therapeutic services to the children. And by supporting their families, we aim to empower them to become active, vocal, and productive members of the community.”

With obvious pride, Daniah delights in telling a story about a group of students working in a factory owned by her father. “They decided they deserved more pay. So they took the unprecedented step of going directly to his office, without an appointment, and asking him for a raise – and he gave it to them!” says Daniah, smiling broadly.

Daniah credits Simmons with preparing her thoroughly for her career. She earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s in education and special needs. Along the way, Daniah did an internship at a group home for teenagers, and worked in two elementary schools. She says the combination of experiences made her realize she wanted to work with children.

“Simmons truly gave me a voice, and the confidence to work in this field. The Simmons approach to teaching is amazing. I had a strong relationship with the faculty, and I still keep in touch with my advisor, Alan Bloom,” says Daniah. “He came to the Center when we celebrated our 25th anniversary.” 

Daniah says anyone considering a career in special-needs education needs to get a graduate degree, and be thoroughly grounded in both theory and practice. “That combination is what prepared me for work in the real world,” says Daniah.