ABU DHABI //Wearing orange work gloves and wielding a dripping paintbrush, 15-year-old Ahmad Sankar layers on a thick coat of white paint over the graffiti on the outer walls of his school.
Ahmad, one of nearly 30 pupils from Al Manhal International School who teamed up with the municipality to work on neighbourhood beautification projects, said he wanted to do his part to help the environment.
"We are going to save our country by making it clean, starting with our school," said the Palestinian, who is in grade 10. "This has been here for one year or two years, and it's time to make sure our environment is clean."
The project is part of the "Asematy" community-enhancement initiative. Hundreds of school pupils across the capital will take part by planting trees, cleaning up after vandalism and picking up rubbish.
Asematy, which was launched in Al Mushrif this month after a campaign in Al Bateen, is a programme designed to encourage residents to take control of their own neighbourhoods. The focus is on enabling community members to invest in their own neighbourhoods and help the municipality to focus on areas of concern.
Pupils from eight private schools in Al Mushrif will take part in the campaign.
"In the future, this will be their capital," said Badreya al Dhahiri, the director of community service for the Abu Dhabi municipality. "We must teach students to change their culture and to take care of the city that we will all live in."
The Asematy campaign in Al Mushrif will centre on encouraging awareness and participation, while the municipality's "Friends" scheme teaches children to protect their residential areas.
"The message is that this city is our city," said a municipality official working with Asematy. "We don't focus on who has a passport and who is a local. We talk about who lives here and how we're all responsible."
A complex of tents has been set up near the intersection of 25th and Khaleej al Arabi streets so that neighbourhood residents can meet government officials and receive more information about the initiative. The tents will remain in Al Mushrif for another month, before moving to 10 more zones across the island.
The Asematy campaign's top goal is community engagement. The municipality is holding meetings with teachers, and community members are given the chance to talk directly with officials about their complaints and suggestions for their neighbourhoods.
And school pupils are an integral part of making the initiative a success.
"We have to target bad behaviour," said the municipal official. "Who are the ones doing the graffiti in the first place? It won't help to talk to parents or just remove it. We need to get to the heart of this. And then these students will pass the message to their friends and families."
The pupils, who started the initiative in their own back yard - at school - were helped by workers and materials provided by Al Falah Holding.
"We're teaching our youth to keep it clean," said Amin al Halabi, an engineering manager for Al Falah who supervised the project at Al Manhal School. By doing this, "they will learn responsibility and hard work, and they will learn to do the right thing to start with. Prevention is better than cure."
In the next phase of Asematy, residents will work with the municipality to address neighbourhood problems such overgrown trees, damaged pavements and road signs, and deteriorating buildings. For Mohammed Sirag, 15, from Egypt, a pupil in the 10th grade at Al Manhal, it's easy to find the motivation for keeping his neighbourhood clean.
"This is important, because we live here," he said.