KUWAIT CITY // For the young Kuwaiti artists, musicians and performers gracing the stage inside the country's largest mall at the weekend, it was a special chance for them to show off their talents. But behind the smiling faces and acrobatic leaps the three-day event had a far greater and pressing importance - to promote a work ethic in the Gulf state where some fear a lackadaisical society is threatening the country's identity.
The event, called Corners of Passion Brought to Life, was organised by 15 young Kuwaitis who attended the Oqsim summer scheme that ran from June to August for the first time this year. The scheme's organiser, Zawaya, a non-profit organisation, said it tried to instil the values of tolerance, pluralism, respect for the law and dedication to work in the participants, who were aged between 15 and 20. It is part of a concerted drive to change the attitudes of young people in the country.
"It's not a problem with the youth. It's an overall problem we are suffering from," said Rana al Khaled, the general manager of Zawaya. "There is no investment in values such as tolerance, having a work ethic and being a good citizen. We believe involving the youth will have an impact. It's like ripples in the water." Ms al Khaled, who left her 12-year career in public finance to work on the project full-time, added: "Our objective is to try and focus on the individual in society. We believe every individual has the power to change, and these attitudes can be infectious." She said she does the work for "self-satisfaction", and supports herself financially with existing business interests including Sharanis Spa in Khalifa City, Abu Dhabi, which she partly owns.
Earlier this year, Zawaya started trying to raise public awareness of values such as tolerance, respect for the law, respect for others, integrity at work and the protection of public resources in Kuwait by running workshops. One was named "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People", based on Steven Covey's popular self-help book. The book promotes values including synergy, meaning creative co-operation, and mutual benefit, termed "think win-win".
Inside The Avenues mall yesterday the acts included a display of Parkour the French art of leaping over boxes and scaling obstacles with as little effort and as much speed as possible, miming from an amateur dramatics club, fencing and impressive displays from a range of local artists, including a blind 11-year-old girl. The event came about at the end of the Oqsim summer scheme, when the Kuwaitis decided to provide a platform for local talent and raise money for charity with a show in one of the country's busiest malls.
Lamia al Salahi, 20, who took part in the Oqsim summer programme and helped organise the event, said half of the profits from sales of T-shirts and a book they created to document the achievements of Kuwait since the 1950s will go to the Middle East's first children's hospice, Bayt Abdullah. Zawaya's first campaign was a four-and-a-half minute television advertisement with 40 local celebrities endorsing values such as respecting the law, respecting other people's opinions and not driving through red lights. Ms al Khaled said the video was inspired by the "I pledge Obama" video, a montage of over 50 Hollywood stars, each vowing something beneficial for America, that was presented to the US president at his inauguration.
The advertisement was launched on Kuwait's nine television channels in February. To attract local talent to the show this week, the company advertised again in the local media and recruited the local radio DJ Mic Embalta to host the event. One of the most impressive displays at the mall was by Basma al Sawawe, a blind 11-year-old girl who moulds clay into depictions of flowers, cars and faces. Basma said her next project will be a plane and her mother, Daliah, said most of her images were already sold at the event for around 50 Kuwaiti dinars (Dh640) each.
"We hope she has a future as an artist," Daliah said. Ahmad al Ostad, a member of the Parkour Jaguar display team that can often be seen practising somersaults in the country's parks, said: "We're the first Parkour team in the Middle East. We've done other shows before, but we had more equipment for this one, so it was better." Mr al Ostad, who is slightly heavier than his extremely slight teammates, prompted a round of applause from the hundreds-strong crowd when he performed a knee-wrenching leap off a three metre high box, breaking into a roll as soon as he hit the ground.
Another distinctive act came from the Mr Format Group, when they performed a mime. "It's like Charlie Chaplin," said one of the four, Mohammed Dashti. "Eighty per cent of the guys in Kuwait want muscles and they use injections to get them, so in our act we use a pump to get inflated and deflated. We're saying: 'easy come, easy go'." "There are 10 people in our group, and we normally just post videos on YouTube. This is our first time on the stage," he said.
"There is a lot of talent in Kuwait, but no shows," said another member of the group, Hassan Karim. "Now we have a chance to show our act and get real experience." firstname.lastname@example.org