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The GW Hatchet


The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

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Representing her country at the U.N.

Senior Sameera Al Bitar is used to representing her country by diving into a pool, having competed in both the 2004 and 2008 Olympics for Bahrain.

This September, she represented her country in another way – this time on land – at the United Nations General Assembly for the U.N. program, “In The Arena: Sports as a Catalyst for International Development.”

“I was very, very happy that I was selected to attend this event. I’ve been to different competitions like the world championship, the Olympics,” Al Bitar said. “I’ve never been to an event where I could see how I could use my sport to help my community when I’m finished.”

The conference focused on how sports could be used to improve relations between countries, a concept the senior believes is very important. A standout hallmark of her Olympic journey, she said, was living in the Olympic Village, where she had the opportunity to meet athletes from all around the world and see how all the athletes interact.

Born in Jordan, Al Bitar moved to Bahrain in 2000, and since she arrived, Bahrain has gone from having no women’s swim team to being the only country in the Persian Gulf that has a swimming program specifically for women. That, combined with her Olympic trips, impressed upon Al Bitar the belief that sport is an important venue for travel and international relations.

“I got an amazing opportunity. I got to travel the world. I got to meet people from different countries,” Al Bitar said. “I got to see a lot and I think it’s important for women especially to be able to do that.”

The Bahraini embassy reached out to Al Bitar, asking her to be part of the delegation heading to the conference, where there would be a special program for athletes to talk about sport and international development.

The main purpose of the day, Al Bitar said, was to attend a USAID conference that was set up like a panel discussion, where three famous athletes — former MLB pitcher Pedro Martinez, former NBA great Dikembe Mutombo and a former Olympic skater from Norway Johann Koss — spoke to those attending. Martinez spoke about his post-retirement outreach to citizens of the Dominican Republic, while Koss discussed his role in creating Right To Play, an organization that works to use sports as tools for the development of youth in the most disadvantaged areas of the world. Mutombo, the speaker that Al Bitar most enjoyed listening to, initially came to the United States to study medicine while on scholarship, and later returned to the Congo, opening a hospital there.

“The most rewarding part was just listening to the three athletes. I don’t think many people have the opportunity to be there and listen to them,” Al Bitar said. “It was interesting to see each person’s journey and what they did after playing sports, because in the future I would like to do the same.”

After she graduates from GW, Al Bitar plans on returning to Bahrain to help women in her home country become more involved in sports, especially swimming. She strives to introduce the feeling of being on a team to the women of her country, so that they have the opportunity to echo her experiences.

“I think it’s very important for girls from Bahrain to have the same opportunity I was able to have,” Al Bitar said. “I think it’s very important for athletes once they are done with their sport to do something with it.”

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