Solidarity through volunteering—François de Ryckel


My name is François and I am a high school math teacher at The KAUST School (TKS). I have been a volunteer with KAUST fire fighters since I joined the University almost three years ago. Volunteering has given me the chance to meet and interact with people from different professional backgrounds and walks of life from staff members, students, to postdocs and faculty members. We meet weekly to have hands-on training on fire management, radio operation, first aid and road accidents. I built a strong connection with all the volunteers. Often you would see us volunteering in big KAUST events like Flavors and The Parade of Nations. Thanks to our trainings as a group and alongside the professionals of the KAUST Fire Dpt., we were able to be quickly and effectively deployed to the various tasks assigned to us.

In late March when COVID-19 crisis became a reality, we became actively engaged. First, we volunteered alongside the Health and Safety Team (HSE) for two consecutive nights trying to manage the entries and exits of people at Gate 1, which eventually closed for all residents keeping the KAUST campus under lockdown for the safety of everyone.

Then when the campus-based supermarket Tamimi Markets, was readapting to the new reality that the pandemic imposed on us all and started to adopt the needed safety measures, we volunteered for 72 hours to help with crowd control and queueing in order to keep social distancing.

Later on, the University leadership provided us with a big number of surgical masks to distribute to members of the KAUST community. We collaborated with Housing and Human Resources to know the number of household members in every house on campus. Every member got five masks to use when they go out outside of the curfew hours. We would pack them and distribute them just at the doorstep with no personal contact with the household to make sure we observe social distancing measures. We are always in touch as needed using a WhatsApp group.

Being part of a community, it is always important for me to give back because a community is only as great as what each of its individuals give. Of course, there are many different ways of doing it. For me, I was always involved in first aid and dealing with emergency situations, which is what I enjoy. I am grateful to be a member of the KAUST Volunteer Fire Department and value the leadership from the chief and the camaraderie in the group. My children are young but are also eager to volunteer in efforts, such as the community clean up.

KAUST is much more than a workplace, it’s a community where there is a wonderful spirit of volunteerism and I encourage all members of the community to look for ways to give back.


  1. Just in case anyone was wondering, the two group photographs without masks were taken well before the COVID 19 epidemic and subsequent restrictions were introduced.