I am a writer, creative, innovator and educator. Since my move to Abu Dhabi, I have led many creative projects. One of these was an English and Arabic book of Emirati fairytales and fables, called the Story Mile. I am also creator of the New Fairytales and Fables (NF&F) from the UAE National Writing Competition. It is a cultural literacy project that promotes the rich Emirati storytelling tradition and celebrates the remarkable talents of students. It also introduces other key aspects of Emirati culture and heritage including the preservation and re-integration of 26 archetypical traditional characters into the UAE’s cultural landscape.
EMPOWERING THROUGH LITERATURE
NF&F began as a vehicle of empowerment for my students back in 2001. At the time, I worked with young Emirati females between the ages of 18-20 on improving their English skills to prepare them for the rigors of university academia. While most of the young ladies were challenged with English fluency, they were still able to painfully articulate the sadness over the vast cultural changes that were occurring during their lifetime. Storytelling became a tool to allow students to positively express their voices, celebrate their heritage and a vehicle to preserve forgotten parts of their culture. It’s been a remarkable journey to watch the transformation of the young ladies, involved in this project, many of whom hadn’t considered themselves to be writers and now have become published authors.
PRESERVING EMIRATI CULTURE
We have taken great care to integrate the ancient characters from Emirati storytelling tradition into new tales that are socially relevant along with the preservation of the traditional dialect. The folkloric icons from Emirati childhood are no longer used to inspire fear and terror as a means of safety, but have now evolved into guardians of Emirati culture and heritage. These ancient heroes serve as reminders of the rich past of the country’s traditions as they hold the characters accountable when they veer off track from the most important values that are integral to the culture of the nation. We hope the stories and the visual art bring to life the best aspects of this beautiful heritage and inspire many more writers to share in the experience of preserving it.
SPREADING LITERATURE THROUGH SCHOOLS
NF&F is an Emirati cultural literacy project. Once you expose kids to various aspects of UAE heritage, they prove to be your greatest ambassadors to share and transmute their knowledge to their parents and families. So, it was always part of the plan to expand this project from the University classroom and Kharareef Heritage Storytelling Club to schools.
The opportunities for NF&F in the capital and across the country are enormous. While this began as a cultural literacy project to introduce Emiratis to forgotten aspects of their intangible culture, it has evolved into a vehicle that has been integrated into a number of programs across the nation to satisfy the Emirati studies components in their curriculum. With the introduction of the National Writing Competition for Schools initiative, we now have students across the UAE from varied cultural and ethnic backgrounds, who are required to satisfy strict submission guidelines; and are therefore learning about, sharing and preserving Emirati traditions through their writings.
Fortunately, the quality and quantity of the writing submissions coming out of the schools is absolutely astonishing. Abu Dhabi and Dubai are integrating a moral curriculum that will be rolled out in January and NF&F’s primary component requires writers to flex their critical thinking skills by not only noting a departure from universally acceptable values, but finding a solution to teach the character a lesson to shift their behavior. We added “We Are Writers” a free publishing platform, to NF&F guidelines and hope to inspire a new generation of authors by encouraging each participating school to celebrate and publish the work of each student writer in a co-branded schoolbook of original fables and fairytales written by their students.
EMIRATI INSPIRED EID CELEBRATIONS
Over Eid al Adha Ferrari World is launching 9 Days of Emirati Inspired Eid Celebrations at
Ferrari World between September 1 and 9. The theme park will showcase cultural experiences inspired by the UAE’s traditional customs for celebrating Eid. As one of the most common Emirati customs is storytelling, the activity will be featured heavily throughout Eid period. As part of the celebrations New Fairytales & Fables from the UAE National Writing Competition for Schools 2016 Winners will be presented to the public.