Galyah Zaini

Saudi Arabia

Galyah  Zaini

Galyah has been overcoming obstacles and surpassing expectations since she first started school. Born in Saudi Arabia, she moved to the United States with her parents at age five, but initially struggled to get used to the differences in culture and the new language. Yet she eventually rose to the challenge – scoring higher than the average American student in English Language tests, and excelling in reading and writing.

However, when she and her family returned to Saudi Arabia at the beginning of high school, Galyah began to struggle with anxiety and depression. She now felt that she didn't fit in, either in the US or Saudi Arabia. However, she never gave up. At the American International School in Jeddah, she received the English Department Award, the Presidential Award for high grades, the Exceptional Performance in Peer Advisory Leadership Award (for assisting second-grade students in special education programs), and the school Humanitarian Award. To pursue academic success while looking after one’s mental health is a challenge – but Galyah continues to persevere and find the right balance.

Galyah also uses her creativity as a way to connect with others and destigmatize mental health. Locally, she shares poetry at open mic nights and speaks at mental health events about her experiences: the aim is to start a conversation and give others the courage and safety to continue it. She also cares deeply about making mental health support more accessible, affordable and welcoming. In Saudi Arabia, adolescent mental health resources are under-resourced, and Galyah wants to give more young people the support and tools they need. She also volunteers regularly with a local therapy clinic to raise awareness for mental health.

In the future, Galyah hopes to start a mental health podcast to share guest stories and normalise the discussion around mental health. She wants to show her community that it isn’t shameful or embarrassing to struggle with mental illness. Her long-term dream is to open a center based in Jeddah that caters for a variety of different types of therapy, traditional and holistic, as well as support groups and events to raise awareness.

If Galyah wins the Global Student Prize, she would use the funds for community outreach, awareness and support. First, she would fund mental health awareness-raising events in collaboration with local mental health experts, especially those with a platform. Second, she would help sponsor people who are interested in therapy but who can’t afford the cost of sessions. Third, she would organise awareness sessions on mental health in schools around Saudi Arabia, targeted towards students, teachers and parents. These would provide them with background information on warning signs of mental illness, ways to help, and ways to seek help.