Dr. Curt Rhodes
May 23, 2022
Founder's Series: Our Founder and Chief Vision Officer, Dr. Curt Rhodes, on what it means to serve the last.

I think he told me it was 7 buses. He got on one, got off, and was not where he wanted to be.  So he got on another bus, got off, and still was not where he was looking for. On and off five more buses till he finally got there.  

Why did a 15-year-old guy, Ayman, get on and off those 7 buses to get to his destination?  Because he could not read. Not a single word on the one-word bus signs. So, he went for trial-and-error rather than risking embarrassment by asking other guys what was written on the sides of buses.  

Where was it that he wanted to be? It was a Questscope non-formal education class in a nearby suburb. A friend had told him that he could learn to read there. That no one would laugh at him, embarrass him or look down on him there. They would not humiliate him. They would be good with him.

So, by the perseverance of trial and error, he located our non-formal education class that afternoon. And met two adults who welcomed him into a new life-space. They would be his learning facilitators (used to be called “teachers”) for the next two years as he worked towards a 10th grade certificate. Math. Science. Arabic. History. All the incredible worlds that get unlocked when someone can read.

He got that certificate and got a job. Now he could be hired because that certificate meant that he could get a social security number, which meant that his name could go on a payroll (and pay taxes – not the best part – but at least it made him a real employee!). He started work with an engineering company, unlocking their doors first thing in the morning and locking them last thing in the evening. But, hey, it was a job.  

He was reliable and he was a learner. Pretty soon he was assigned other duties so that engineers could do engineering things and he could do administrative things for them. He started keeping up excel sheets and eventually was entrusted to distribute pay envelopes to each employee (before internet banking!). And all this while he was still the keeper of the keys to the doors of the buildings, unlocking and relocking them for engineers to do their jobs.

Through knowing Ayman, I got what getting a second chance means. Not just a chance to survive, but to thrive.

A second chance gives someone think-space to find the right question to answer. A 15-year-old could answer this question, “How can I learn to read,” instead of that question, “How can I work harder when I can’t navigate what is going on around me?” Answering the right question makes survival possible. But there’s  something more.

Ayman was an excellent survivor. He answered the right question, “how to learn to read?” But he moved way beyond surviving. He wanted to thrive, he wanted more, so he questioned his answer.    

His answer to his first question was to learn to read so that he could get a job. But then he started thinking, is this job all I want? Just locking and unlocking doors? So, he questioned his answer and came up with another answer which would take him to become paymaster for the engineers.

Ayman was also an excellent thriver. Thriving goes way beyond answering the right question to survive.  It means  getting better answers, not stopping with the first one. To think critically about what more he can do, what new horizon he wants to move towards.

A young person with perseverance (remember the 7-buses?), connected with adults skilled in transferring knowledge and stimulating thinking skills, will be a thriver. So, there are at least 3 heroes in this story: Ayman and his 2 facilitators. All three amazing humans, doing amazing things together.

Our Questscope team provides vision, training and serious back-up for teachers as they transform into facilitators of learning who are champions of youth otherwise locked outside doors of incredible futures that education opens up. That is our job. And that is what our community makes possible for us to do together.  

There is more after basic education. Lots more. Years more. Tech jobs that exist today and new ones that will come up tomorrow require sharp minds and that 7-bus thing called perseverance. Oh and many someones to keep those relationship tanks filled – to negotiate the speed of the rapids of 21st Century life. 

We are committed to young people’s reaching the first good answer to the first question to survive. And we are equally committed to giving them the think-space and relationship place to question that answer and come up with a better one.  

Answering the right question. Then questioning the right answer. Who would have thought that moving from surviving to thriving would be so simple to understand? And that it would take lifetimes to do?!

On one of those buses, thriving!


Curt pic1
Founder & Chief Vision Officer

Dr. Curt Rhodes

Curt Rhodes has spent close to 40 years working with, and on behalf of, marginalized communities and young people across the Middle East.

As the recipient of the 2014 Dr. Jean Mayer Global Citizenship Award, Dr. Rhodes was recognized by Tufts University for his demonstrated compassion and tenacity in creating a highly effective and determined organization dedicated to the survival and nurturing of the most vulnerable and disenfranchised.

In recognition of his work with marginalized youth in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and in the region, Dr. Rhodes was awarded 2011 Social Entrepreneur of the Year for the Middle East and North Africa by the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship.

Dr. Rhodes began his career in the Middle East in the early 1980s, as Assistant Dean in the School of Public Health at the American University of Beirut. During the 1982 invasion of west Beirut, he volunteered in a community-based clinic alongside students and friends, doing around-the-clock triage for wounded and ill civilians. That was when the seed idea for Questscope began to take shape. Living and working with people in great suffering compelled him to find a way that he and others in the Middle East could assist the most vulnerable: participating with the voiceless ones in invisible communities.

In 1988, Questscope was founded with the goal of putting the last, first. From the beginning, Questscope worked closely with local communities, identifying their aspirations and together addressing their greatest needs.