2005 Tara Conference Left to Right: Angela Kooheji, Lois Finanger, Meg Porter, Nimah Nawwab, Linda Amin, Kate Brundage, Maggie Mutsch
Photograph by Charlie Franck

The Arabian Reading Association (TARA) Conference celebrated its 10th anniversary March 2-4, 2005, when 425 educators gathered in Bahrain at the Crowne Plaza to attend, A Decade of Dedication to Literacy. TARA, which is a non-profit organization, was conceived and founded in 1994 by a group of Saudi Aramco educators seeking to provide a forum for meaningful professional development in literacy education for the Gulf region. The organization is a national affiliate of the International Reading Association (IRA). This year, delegates hailed from 10 countries in the Gulf region, and participants represented over 25 different nationalities. The international array of people was bonded by their love of learning and quest to discover more about the latest methods and strategies of teaching reading and writing.

The pre-conference was held on Wednesday, March 2, offering a choice of five different full-day workshops, including sessions in English and in Arabic. On Thursday morning when the general conference began, the center was bustling with activity as people registered, greeting each other warmly over coffee and tea, and sharing stories from the past year. Excitement filled the air as participants previewed the program, which carefully described each workshop or presentation that would be offered over the next two days. Presenters came from schools located in Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Hong Kong, Italy, Jordan, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia.

Opening Session

Over 40 presentations were offered, some in Arabic and others in English, ranging from how to include technology in teaching reading, how to implement a school-wide developmental literacy program using continuums, strategies for effective reading instruction and how to teach phonemic awareness and measure fluency, among many others.

Unique Speaker

The opening session on Thursday featured welcoming remarks by the conference committee chairperson, Maggie Mutsch, followed by George Farag, Cultural Attaché, US Embassy, Bahrain, and comments by Sheikha Lulwa Khalifa Al-Khalifa, Director of Curricula, Bahrain Ministry of Education. Then two special guests of TARA this year, both delegates from Afghanistan, spoke about education and literacy in their country. In a heartfelt speech, Gul Gotai explained that under the Taliban, females were not allowed to be educated, so that has left a void in the number of trained female teachers. Although there are new training centers for teachers, the demand far exceeds the supply. Both delegates asked the audience for help, not only through financial means, but also through volunteerism.

Nimah Nawwab Nimah Nawwab Reads Her Poetry at the 2005 Tara Conference
Photograph Contributed by Charlie Franck

On Friday, the keynote speaker was Ni’mah Ismail Nawwab, who is a Makkan poet and author of The Unfurling. Ms. Nawwab was elated to speak at a TARA conference, since her poetry beginnings can be traced back to TARA in 2000, when she met and heard poet Naomi Shihab Nye speak. Ms. Nawwab is from a scholarly family and was exposed to poetry when her father began reading Shakespeare to her when she was eight years old. Throughout the years, she had always loved poetry but had never seriously composed it, showcasing instead her artistic abilities through photographic and culinary endeavors, along with writing, translating and editing articles, both in Arabic and English. It was through Ms. Nye’s inspiration and encouragement that Ms. Nawwab began her poetry journey, culminating in the publishing of her book in November 2004.

Ms. Nawwab’s address, entitled Poetry as the Language of Life, captivated the 400+ listeners, magically and seemingly effortlessly creating bridges between all nationalities, religions and gender. She shared a few of her poems, read with grace and charm. Her calm, melodic voice punctuated the poem, The Hidden Layers, at just the correct places. (excerpt)


Some think I am hiding
Underneath my long black cloak,
With little narrow slits for my eyes,
Cloaked in mystery, medieval modesty,
Wondering, what is going on behind the mask?

Accompanying other poems was a hushed, rhythmical, background of Arabic music. Most in the audience could identify with the poem she shared about her daughter’s birth, My Joy, as Aminah sat proudly among the listeners. (excerpt)

The joy she gave me,
When she arrived,
Kicking, yelling, blue in the face
So tiny, with perfect little hands,
So helpless, flaying about.

Anyone familiar with teenagers could fully appreciate the poem about getting her son ready for Friday prayer. Each person was able to extract the essence of the poem and apply it to their personal life, whether it involved the teen-ager preparing to attend the mosque, a church or a temple.

2005 Tara Conference Dr. Anna Marie Amudi with Nimah
Photograph Contributed by Charlie Franck

The audience’s feedback was notable in the way they viewed the pieces read and style of delivery. As one American woman stated: “Hearing Ni’mah read her poetry this morning was unquestionably a memorable experience. Her melodious voice, accompanied by her calm, peaceful manner was a joy to behold. She writes about universal issues that are not segregating, but uniting. We can all listen and relate to poems about our children, grandmothers, friends with cancer, women and choices. She exudes gentleness, understanding of both Saudi and Western cultures, and writes with eloquence and simplicity. What a gift she has given us.”

Attendees of Ms. Nawwab’s earlier presentation, Motivating Young Writers and Poets, alluded to her ability to teach others about poetry. A South African teacher noted: “I enjoyed meeting Ni’mah and found her to be inspiring. She offered excellent ideas for teaching children about poetry. Her poetry embraces the entire world and not just a certain sector. She focuses on so many aspects that make up humanity. She and her messages have a very broad appeal.”

2005 Tara Conference Book Signing
Photograph Contributed by Charlie Franck

Through the years, Saudi Aramco Schools has supported the TARA conference through volunteerism, human resources and delegates. All proceeds are put towards the next year’s conference, which further illustrates the committee’s dedication to literacy in the Gulf region. For further information about TARA, please visit their website at: www.taraconference.org. To find out more about the International Reading Association, visit www.reading.org.