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Alpha Kappa Alpha Pearls of Arabia

Former Atlanta teacher Ayoluwa Parham-Hunter helping create new AKA “village” in Dubai

This is an occasional AJC Sepia series that looks at black Greek letter organizations

Growing up, I never thought about joining a sorority.pear

I was familiar with Greek life because my mother took my friends and I to step shows held at the local university.  Also, I tuned into the weekly episodes of “A Different World.”

However, I never saw myself as the “sorority girl” I would eventually become.

As a matter of fact, it wasn’t until middle school that I was totally shocked by the discovery that my own mother was a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.

For me, she did not fit the description of a “Sorority Girl” either. 

Let me give you some background information on my parents. In my parents’ circle of friends, they strived to maintain African traditions within their families.

Today, we affectionately refer to that circle, and our upbringing, as the “village.”

As children of the “village,” we all had African names, we celebrated Kwanzaa long before it became mainstream and we were vegetarians before it became a fad.

My mother proudly sported an afro well into the early 1990s and I just couldn’t imagine her taking part in anything that wasn’t about the “village.”

So imagine my amazement to learn that several of her friends, including the Kwanzaa-celebrating, African-named, vegetarian friends, were also members of the sorority.

These were women I had known all of my life.  I respected them, looked up to them, and considered them second mothers. So naturally, in their footsteps, Alpha Kappa Alpha was my choice.

In the spring of 2000, I was initiated into the Alpha Chi chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. at North Carolina Central University, along with 31 other young ladies.

Organizing campus programs and events for the betterment of our university and our community was something I enjoyed and I was sure I would continue my involvement in the sorority after my graduation in December 2000.

After graduation I moved to Atlanta.  In new city, with a new teaching job and new responsibilities of living on my own, I was not immediately able to reconnect to my sorority.

As time passed, I began to attend more AKA-sponsored programs, but I still did not take the step of becoming a financially active member of the sorority.

That would begin to change in August 2013, when I decided to pursue a teaching job in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

The adjustment to a new country, a new culture, and a new work environment definitely presented a challenge.

About a week into my school year, I met Irileria Muhammad, a second-year teacher from Houston.

She listened to my school struggles, my cultural struggles and my housing dilemma (there were no more apartments available and I was headed to my third hotel in four weeks).

Most importantly, she shared her own story as a tool to re-assure me that everything I was experiencing was typical. Those conversations became the foundation for a friendship that we still maintain, although she has returned to America.

Nonetheless, during one of our many conversations, she asked if I was Greek. I hadn’t been asked that in a long time, and was somewhat embarrassed to respond.

I told her I was an AKA and discovered that she was an active member of the sorority as well. She was quite excited about sorors reactivating their membership in the sorority after having attended the Sorority’s Leadership Conference in Montreal in July 2013.

She invited me to join her and other sorors in the UAE dinner.

I was surprised to see that there were so many sorors in the UAE, and they were connected via a Facebook page, started by Soror Brittni Ware, called “Ivies in the UAE.”

This dinner and connection would become the foundation for my involvement in what is now -- as of Jan. 22, 2016 -- known as the Omega Theta Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.

After the dinner, I participated in many events, including organized desert cleanups, the annual Diabetes Walk, donation drives, and co-sponsored social events for teachers.

I was truly inspired by these women. They were teachers, doctors, and lawyers, who had been in the UAE for several years, and were continuing the legacy of our founders in a whole new cultural arena.

The excitement of this newfound involvement and sense of sisterhood and service led me to reactivating my membership in AKA. 

Throughout 2013-2014, we continued to make our mark in the UAE, and we began to inquire about the process of becoming an official chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.

We were inspired by the accomplishment of the women of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., who chartered a chapter on May 23, 2014.

After months of letter writing, meetings, and information gathering for our portfolio, on Nov. 5, 2014, we proudly became Pearls of Arabia, an official interest group of Alpha Kappa Alpha.

A visit from the International Region Director, Soror Gizette L. Thomas, would occur shortly thereafter in January 2015.  During this visit, she clearly defined the process and the expectations of chartering a chapter, and gave valuable feedback on our efforts to that point.

As an interest group, we joined in partnerships with several community outreach programs in the UAE, solidified the informal programs we were already doing, and charted the course we planned to take towards chartering a chapter.

Many sorors attended the sorority’s Leadership Conference in Chicago in the summer of 2015 to acclimate to the changes that had occurred within the sorority, and to get the information and connections that we would need to proceed with our plans to charter the first chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha in the Middle East. 

Upon returning from vacation in August, we learned our International President, Soror Dorothy Buckhanan Wilson, would be conducting an official site visit.

I don’t think I’ve ever been more nervous and excited at the same time, as her visit was very critical to our chartering endeavors and could “make or break us.”

The amount of work that we had to do in preparation for her visit seemed magnanimous, as there were long days and nights, countless conference calls and meetings, and manipulation of schedules across multiple time zones to ensure we had covered all the bases.

Our efforts were fruitful. She was very pleased with the work in the UAE, and she commended us for taking the initiative to even consider forming a chapter in a country where women were treated as second class citizens.

She was confident we would continue the legacy of Alpha Kappa Alpha and make a difference in the UAE community.

The dream had been dreamt, the charge had been given, the work had been done, and on Jan. 22, 2016, we were rewarded for our hard work and perseverance.

The Omega Theta Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. was chartered in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The Omega Theta Omega chapter is now the 16th international chapter of the sorority.

During those anxious conversations about an uncertain future in a new country, I could not foresee that I would meet over 50 women with whom I would share the bond of sisterhood that only women of Alpha Kappa Alpha can explain.

I could not foresee that along with 36 of them, I would make history in a country that is not much older than I am.

I could not foresee that -- much like the nine women who came together at the behest of Ethel Hedgeman Lyle at Howard University in 1908 to form a new reality and standard for women -- we would come together, ultimately charter a chapter of our beloved sorority, and continue to create a new reality and standard for women in the Middle East.

As women of Alpha Kappa Alpha we share a common goal, Service to All Mankind. As I reflect on the sweetness of this accomplishment, we will continue to be a positive influence in the UAE, and continue to carry the vision of our founders throughout the UAE, and continue to exemplify the highest standard of service and sisterhood.

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