Diaries of a Disgruntled Development Worker: Sit El Kol Syndrome

When navigating the treacherous waters of the public education system, you go from one disaster to another. Inefficiency, bribery, abuse of authority. Chipped paint on the walls, dirty hallways and crammed classrooms. Broken lightbulbs, dirty bathrooms and archaic textbooks. Irrespective of all of this, partnering with public universities is a must if you want to truly impact the most marginalized and disadvantaged youth – so we tread on.

After meeting with a myriad of student services departments at public universities, I began to pick up on something. In every over-staffed and under-ventilated office, I encountered the same archetype: “Sit El Kol”. Who is Sit El Kol? Let me paint you a picture.

Sit El Kol (SEK) is an older woman (think Golden Girls sans the glitzy 80s fashion – actually, with the glitzy 80s fashion). She is usually of a higher economic background, flashing her designer veil and Mercedes cars every chance she gets. She has been a government employee her entire life, and held the same position for well over 15 years.

Every member of the department gushes about her maternal instinct (قلب الأم ) and tells tall tales of her philanthropy, all while SEK feigns humility. She doles out hugs and well wishes to everyone around her. She makes sure everyone is well fed – asking Mohamed if he had his breakfast and making sure Sanaa has some water to drink. She knows every employee’s name, family history and life tragedies. But you know what Sit El Kol doesn’t know? How to do her job.

And what’s worse is that she wears it all as a badge of honor. Two encounters come to mind. SEK 1: refused to have training courses for university students without offering them a croissant or pate for a midday snack. Didn’t ask about curriculum, trainers or the benefit of the program. Nope. But she INSISTED we provide them with a midday snack, all while her staff looked on in complete adoration.

SEK 2: boasted that there are university students who graduated during her tenure who have been unemployed for over five years because they are waiting for her to get them a job.

No, woman! No! These are grown adults! Grown adults. They are fully capable of feeding, clothing and providing for themselves. Or at least they should be.

In my humble opinion, the SEK phenomenon is not a coincidence, it is a conscious decision. A decision to place a certain character, in a certain position, at a certain department. This ensures not only that the department infantilized, but the people it serves (namely the youth) and its purpose are as well.

It is all in the nuances, the “mama bear” approach Sit El Kol uses. What is seemingly nurturing is actually creating a paradigm in which she provides these services out of the kindness of her heart. It is not that these students deserve services, that the university has an obligation to avail opportunities, and that the departments’ role is to provide access to activities. No. It is out of the kindness of her heart.

When will we realize that we are stripping away any chance for youth empowerment? We are creating a society in which youth are infantilized, in which they are caught in a cycle of dependency that is continuously reinforced. A society where everything from your midday pastry to your future career must be handed to you by a benefactor. I hate to break it to you, Sit El Kol, but you’re not doing anyone any favors. And no, for the 50th time, mish 3ayza shay, fetirt abl ama agi, w ana mish bardana min el takeef el 7amdollela.


WE SAID THIS: Check out all the Diaries of Disgruntled Development Worker here.

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