DUBAI // Emirati mothers and fathers took time off work yesterday to illustrate the "true UAE" to expatriate children and parents at private schools.
As part of National Day celebrations, local parents at the Gems World Academy (GWA) in Dubai dressed in the traditional Emirati attire of khanduras and embellished abayas. They shared their traditions with pupils and parents at a heritage village set up in the school compound.
"Everyone was asked to dress up in the local costume, and they are enjoying it," said Hind al Janahi, a UAE national whose daughter attends the school.
"I was overwhelmed when mums who come from countries like America, Britain and Canada came up to me and said they always wondered how Arab women wore something that is generally thought to be restrictive, but now when they have worn it they felt a sense of dignity and comfort."
The parents association at the school worked for a month to bring in traders of bakhoor (fragrant wood chips), local sweets, bread and handicrafts for the village, plus costume suppliers.
Local high school boys brought falcons and stallions from their family farms to entertain students.
Grade 10 student Saeed al Murooshid was asked to bring his feathery companion to educate other children about the importance of the falcon in Emirati culture.
"Our ancestors used falcons to hunt for food, but nowadays falconry is a sport," he told a group of curious pupils. "A lot of them call it an eagle . no, it is not!
"I want them to know more about our lifestyle, our habits, traditions and religion."
Mrs al Janahi said National Day was a good opportunity for expatriates to learn about the history of the UAE and the motifs they see around them.
"Many people do not know things, like what the colours on the UAE flag mean, when the seven emirates came together as a country and who the president is," she said.
"This is the perfect occasion to make them familiar with all this."
Sassy Cracknell, a British national who chairs the GWA Parents' Association, said it was enlightening to work on a programme that provided an insight into Arabic customs.
"Our team sat down to decide on an agenda that would best represent the country, and we had the local parents immediately jump at the idea and support us with putting it together," she said.
Running up to tomorrow, the 39th birthday of the UAE, the Parents' Association at the Al Mizhar American Academy for Girls has set up stalls to sell badges, flags and local cuisine in the school lobby.
"We want every child to have something that reminds them of the UAE," said Fairouz Aziz, the mother of one of the pupils. "It's nice for non-UAE nationals to see what kind of food we eat.
"Today, we had a mother bring in some traditional biscuits, and we exchanged recipes, so it is a learning process."
Randa Ahmed, another Emirati mother whose children are at the academy, said this was a time to talk about the values that form society.
"Family ties with your mother, father as well as cousins and distant relatives are very important," she said. "Also, we believe guests [represent] God, and love entertaining people."
She said she believed this was also a period to teach her kids about their roots, while being a part of a multi-cultural society.
"I want them to hold onto their culture and be proud of the country and the progress it has made."
At the American International School in Abu Dhabi, local parents stepped up to lend a hand in the celebrations, too. Students made videos of their vision of the UAE. Local songs and dances will be performed at the school today.
Dema Shanti, the community affairs co-ordinator, said local parents offered to provide camels and horses from their farms, and to set up stalls.
"Even for the new staff and students that have joined the school today, these festivities highlight the significance of National Day," she said.