RAS AL KHAIMAH // Ahmad Saeed is polite but sounds a little nervous when he answers the telephone. "Hello, Ras al Khaimah Police," he says. His nervousness is understandable. This is his first day on the job - and he is only 14.
Ahmad is one of 120 high school students taking part in "Friends of the Police", a summer camp that teaches Emirati boys about life on the RAK force. The boys, 12 to 17, accompany officers to the emirate's police stations, prisons and sports clubs to learn about the job. The five-week programme sees students learning about CID investigations, how the traffic department monitors the roads, and day-to-day administration. In the mornings, the boys have swimming lessons, play football and even compete at dismantling and reassembling M16 rifles.
The goal is to teach them self-confidence and to trust in their own abilities. Today, Ahmad is answering phones at the police headquarters. He hopes one day to be an air force pilot. This camp, he says, is a step towards that dream. "I don't like to stay at home," says Ahmad, "I like to learn." "Every day is different," says Hamad al Habsi, a trainer who has worked at the summer camp for eight years.
"In the morning they have exercise and then firearms for 45 minutes. Then we have swimming, marathons and games. "Some of the boys go to the offices and learn on the computer. They get an idea about the police, they get to know each other. They are happy when they come because they think they can fight crime and catch the bad guys." According to Capt Majid Mansour, head of recruitment for the force, police work has become "more popular than ever". For these students, it is their first hands-on experience of life in the force.
"We like to give them something to do in their spare time before they go back to school," says Capt Mansour. "They must have trust, they must work together. They have to be strong. We are looking for the boys who answer quickly, who are open- minded and who are not afraid to do anything." For most of the students, the camp provides opportunities to build future careers in the police and the military, to which many young Emiratis aspire.
"After five weeks they know everything," says Salem al Tenaiji, who has worked as a trainer for three years. "In the UAE, more people are in the police and the army than offices. The boys learn new things and they know what police go through. Sixty to 70 per cent will become officers. Once they get here, they feel mature." Admission is not easy, however. This year, 526 men and 167 women applied to the RAK Police for positions in Civil Defence, the prison system, the traffic and licensing department, the CID and human resources. Only one in six were selected, recruitment officers say.
The boys know that competition for places is high and many hope the camp will give them an advantage when they apply. Nearly all of the boys have relatives who work for the police and serve as role models. Khalifa Saeed, 15, hero-worships his cousin, who is in the CID, and dreams of becoming his colleague. "He's strong in work and he does good things," says Khalifa, who wants to join the police to develop his interest in science. "Maybe explosives," he says. "I always want to learn new things."
Along the marble corridor of the RAK Police headquarters, Mohammed Maji, 12, and Omar Ahmad, 14, are helping with administration, entering data on to a computer and sorting library books. "It's good work," says Omar. "I like working at the computer and making friends." Mohammed agrees: "It fills our spare time. It's something new. My friends would rather stay at home. I'd be bored at home with nothing to do." And, he adds, "the hours of work are better than school".
Are they a little nervous? "No," they say together, giggling before getting back to work. Across town, at the Police Officers' Club, the gym resonates with the whoops and cheers of boys. Some have traded their kandoras for shorts and football jerseys and are kicking a fluorescent ball around the gym. Others are learning how to assemble a 3.9kg M16. "My favourite activity is firearms because my father is in the police," says Saif Salem, 17, dressed in camouflage fatigues.
After his graduation next year, Saif plans to join the army or police. "When I go to work with the police I will have some ideas about what I want to do. I want to do training." For the boys, the camp is more than a way of keeping busy. It is a way of honouring their families and their heritage. "I want to defend my country," says Rashid Mohammed, 17, who graduates from high school next year. "I have family in the police. My dad is a policeman. It's a good job. You get to know more people, to help people. You need trust."