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Alumni Profile

Making a Difference

Najat Zaarour

“Alf shukr wa alf bravo!” said President John Waterbury as he accepted a check for $333,000 in the spring of this year from the Dubai and Northern Emirates Branch of the AUB Alumni Association. The check, representing the largest single gift ever received from an alumni branch, symbolizes the enormous success achieved by the Dubai Branch through the constant commitment of its members and especially through the heartfelt devotion of its president, Najat Zaarour. Ever since graduation, this ardent family-oriented, tennis-playing mother of two girls has enthusiastically dedicated much of her life to her alma mater. “My love for AUB,” she says, “is a virus, and I want everyone to be contaminated by it.”
After graduating in 1969 with a BA in Public Administration, Zaarour and her husband Yusuf, also an AUB graduate, continued their studies at the State University of New York in Albany, where she earned an MA in Library Science. “Working there afterwards as a librarian in a psychiatric center taught me a lot about myself and others,” she says. Five years later, the Zaarours returned to Lebanon and went into private business.
The young couple first started working with the AUB Alumni Association in 1987 in Muscat, where Najat Zaarour established an alumni branch with only 40 graduates. The group raised $90,000, and today a conference room in the new College Hall proudly bears the name of the Muscat Alumni Chapter.
When the Zaarours moved to Dubai in 1996, Najat promptly began working with the branch there. “Our objective has always been to give at least a little to AUB because AUB had given a lot to us.” The indefatigable Dubai Branch now numbers around 700 members, and most of them play an active role in alumni activities.
Zaarour and her committee offer the AUB graduates a variety of activities. Each year witnesses one or two large social events that bring together some 600 alumni with their families and friends. Some of the gatherings are often related to Ramadan (usually an iftar that is held in a mammoth tent), and another activity may be a desert caravan outing. The Dubai Branch also holds a major cultural event each year featuring poetry, theater, music, and prominent speakers (Ghassan Tueni, publisher of An-Nahar, was a recent lecturer). “Our main aim is to bring AUB alumni together with the community, and I try to attract the younger generation as much as I can,” says Zaarour. The chapter also introduces new AUB graduates to the community and at the same time helps them with job-hunting and employment.
A creative social and fundraising activity is the Beach Club program, which arranges individual and family memberships for alumni at attractive facilities in various Dubai hotels at reduced rates and also earns a profit for the branch. “The hotel is happy; we are happy, and the alumni are happy,” Zaarour remarks. Other activities throughout the year include sporting events, which also bring the AUB graduates together and raise the profile of the University in the area.

The branch’s biggest fundraising event, which takes place in May, is its annual gala dinner. The culmination of the year’s fundraising efforts, the ball is “not an isolated event,” Zaarour explains. “Throughout the year we are preparing…direct fundraising comes from numerous private donors and Dubai companies that now donate annually to AUB. Companies such as Aramex, Cadillac, Chalhoub Trading, Leo Burnett, and Petrofac, among others, actually budget $10,000 to $20,000 each year for AUB. In addition, they purchase high-priced advertisements in the impressive yearbook published on the occasion of the annual festivity. Each year, our fundraising activities have a single theme; this year it was “You make a difference.’”
The objective of the branch’s fundraising efforts is to provide financial aid to qualified and needy AUB students. “I actually had a scholarship at AUB—my husband, too—and I always felt I had to give something back to the University. By helping needy students I can do that,” Zaarour says. She wants to change not only the lives and careers of those students, but also the fortunes of Lebanon and the region. “At this time of dramatic changes taking place in our backyard,” she observes, “leaders with foresight, integrity, and courage are needed to pull us out of this cycle of violence, oppression, and injustice.” She insists on the importance of AUB values: “Only those who have been nurtured in the liberal values of pluralism, democracy, and teamwork can help our countries escape underdevelopment and achieve progress.”
The Dubai graduates started with the slogan, “Dubai for 10.” But over the years, the branch’s original support for 10 students has swelled to 20, 30, and now 40. The students do not always come from Dubai, Zaarour pointed out: “We do not choose. The University selects, but if there are needy students from Dubai, we recommend them.”

The money raised by the Dubai Branch not only provides direct assistance for students, but also fuels an endowment fund for future aid. President Najat Zaarour wants to make sure the fuel for such a vital engine of human development as education does not run out.