ABU DHABI // Teenagers from around the world today gathered at the Emirates Palace hotel on Sunday to kick off the 31st International Arab Children Congress, preparing for a week of arts workshops and cross-cultural discussions about sustainable development.
"I want to show people that the UAE wants to help the world," said Hessa Khamies, 14, from Fujairah, one of more than 25 Emirati participants.
"Of course I am excited," Hessa said. "We're also a bit nervous."
It was the first time the conference has been held outside Jordan, where it was founded.
About 150 teenagers and supervisors came from 15 countries, including Oman, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Tunisia and Sudan. Several non-Arab countries also sent delegations of children, including the United States and Australia.
Many of the participants passed a rigorous selection process, organisers said. The conference will allow them to hone their skills in drama, music, painting, poetry and technology workshops, interspersed with sessions on waste recycling, green technology and renewable energy.
"Children and future generations have the highest stake in sustainable development, yet traditionally, they have the faintest voice in determining it," said Nikhil Seth, who spoke at the conference's opening ceremony. Mr Seth is the director of the division for sustainable development at the United Nations' department of economic and social affairs.
Yesterday, the teenagers gathered in the hotel auditorium bearing the flags of their countries, many wearing national dress or other traditional costumes. Several shyly crossed the lines of their delegations, posing for photographs with new friends.
Their week will include outings to Masdar City, Ferrari World and the Burj Khalifa, but many said they were most excited to meet people from other cultures.
"I came here to see different children from different countries," said Omar Jabel, 14, from Abu Dhabi. "I will know his life and he will know my life."
"I am introducing my country," said Shaikah Al Masoud, 16, from Qatar.
Warren von Weise, 16, from the United States, said he had already met some Emiratis.
"It's really wild," he said, describing his amazement on his first trip to the UAE. "It's a different world."
The opening ceremony concluded with a "sustainability operetta," performed by about 100 Emirati children and the Emirati singer Hussein Al Jassmi. They danced, sang and recited poetry in Arabic as delegations waved their flags to the beat.