Teen escapes Saudi Arabia

As Mary Gant was being recognized at last week's La Cañada Flintridge Chamber of Commerce awards dinner as a chamber ambassador, her thoughts no doubt were more focused on her granddaughter and the harrowing adventure she had just completed.

Nineteen-year-old Summer Gant had finally been reunited with her mother and grandparents a few days earlier after escaping from Saudi Arabia.

Sophocles said, “Children are the anchors that hold a mother to life.” The bond between a mother and her child has been the foundation of novels and poetry throughout the centuries. It is a bond that is often tested by the normal day-to-day life of raising children but in some cases the strength of that bond is pushed to unimaginable limits. In the case of Summer's mother Brenda and their family friends, the power of loyalty and love reunited them after a year and a half apart.

Brenda and her husband lived with their four children for many years in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. During that time Brenda worked at several jobs and made friends. Then, 11 years ago, her husband decided to move their two daughters to his family home 400 miles away.

“This wasn't a tradition,” Brenda said. “It was just something my husband did.”

Brenda said she stayed married to her husband of 20 years even after he took daughters away, in hopes that she could have some contact them. Mother and daughters were able to see each other once in awhile and although it wasn't the best situation, at least she still had contact.

A year and a half ago, Brenda traveled with her son Omar back to California to visit her parents and decided to stay here. It wasn't planned, but she felt that it was the right time to make the change. From that point on, she tried to find a way to get her children back with her. Summer, who was the only of her children born in the United States, wanted to come to America. Brenda and her parents worked through friends, family and officials to find options to get the children to America.

“Many friends in La Cañada helped,” Mary said.

Brenda and her parents e-mailed family and friends and asked them to contact anyone that could help them with the children.

“We asked them to contact anyone, specifically President Bush and government officials that could press the Saudis,” Brenda said.

Mary said, she was surprised at how many people came to their aid. “Many people responded immediately.”

In the meantime Summer was also thinking of how she could join her mother. Her life with her father's family was very restrictive. She didn't go to school for three years, just stayed at her father's family home.

“We would go out every couple of months,” Summer said. “But even if we go out we have to go with a whole group.”

Summer added that if she made friends she could not stay in touch because she never knew when she would be allowed to see them again. She felt trapped and missed her mother.

“The people stick with you like glue,” she said.

“This is not the way every family is in Saudi Arabia,” Brenda pointed out.

One day Summer saw her opportunity for freedom. She ran away from the house she had been held in for so long and made the 400-mile trip to the American consulate in Jeddah.

“The day I left the door was broken,” Summer said. “It was scary to be out of the home but it was also a relief.”

“When I got to the counsel I knew I was safe and hopefully thought that one of these days I can come to [America].”

Summer does not know whether her father is aware that she is with her mother. Since she ran away he had not called anyone to ask if she was safe. “I asked at the consulate if he had called but they said he hadn't,” she said.

For now Summer is happy to be in America and plans to take advantage of the freedom offered to her. She is working on getting her GED. She is also contemplating college and what she what career she may chose. She said that now there are many choices open.

Brenda still hopes that if her two children wish to come to America they will be allowed to, she is taking it one step at a time.

“We still have two grandchildren over there,” Mary said.

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