x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Let's highlight positive role-models from today's youth

It's only natural that students question what their future could be in the UAE. Why not, when the success stories in local newspapers always cover 50-year-old tycoons and almost never young people?

Ali Mostafa, Ritesh Jeswani, Mohammaed Ali and Seaon Shin are four names to watch. No, they do not belong to the list of middle-aged businessmen who are waiting to strike gold in this country; they are young people trying to make a name for themselves based on their own talents.

Ali Mostafa is the director of the locally acclaimed movie City of Life; Ritesh Jeswani and Mohammed "Mali" Ali are founders of the online Campus Radio "infotainment" station; and Seaon Shin is the founder of GYEM (the Global Youth Empowerment Movement). Each of them has a vision and the will to follow through, but they are often unable to get the attention of the media. Their names have appeared a few times in the newspapers, but get lost in the frenzy of Paris Hilton sightings at Jumeirah Beach or news of the plans to shoot Mission Impossible: 4 in Dubai.

This is part of a larger trend. There are presumptions about young people here that are no different than anywhere else: young adults are careless, impulsive, irresponsible or thoughtless. But there are plenty of young people here that do not fit the mould.

Seaon, a 19-year-old Korean American, is one example of the power of focused youthful energy. "Service is the answer," says Ms Shin, whose organisation recruits 15 to 25-year-olds to participate in community projects and generate a greater awareness of global issues.

"I thought that clubbing and partying with my friends would be the best time of my life, but I was mistaken," she says. "The happiest moments of my life were the six months I spent working on GYEM."

As a result, Graffiti-A-Tunnel for Hope was organised in October at Festival City, in which people used the wall as a canvas for their expression of the word "hope". These kinds of initiatives, established by young people, support the same goals as organisations such as Al Noor: Centre for Children with Special Needs and the Make-A-Wish foundation.

I have seen this commitment on the part of young people time and again. Recently a friend of mine in his last year of university, Anil Nair jr, was thrilled at the chance of making a promotional video for a student event. He shared the concept with me and began to outline a script the same day. He spent the next three weeks shooting a two-minute video.

But instead of being congratulated for his efforts, there were the usual questions: "Are they paying you? Are you getting something out of it?" People didn't seem to understand what his motives could be.

Elsewhere in the world, role models like Richard Branson or Bill Gates set examples of people who followed their dreams to success. When a student in the UAE is considering their future, who can they look to?

Too many students at UAE universities are planning to pursue higher education or careers outside of the region. "It's a slow place," one media student told me. "I'd rather do my master's in the UK and get some good exposure there. I mean, what can you do here?"

It's only natural that students question what their future could be in the UAE. Why not, when the success stories in local newspapers always cover 50-year-old tycoons and almost never young people?

Then again, so what if a 19-year-old wants to build a global youth community? So what if one director portrays the multicultural society of Dubai from multiple perspectives? Why should the media pay attention to these individuals?

The truth is that it's safe to stick to the beaten path, even if you end up just going around in circles. The challenge is to embrace the new course that the youth represent. Whether the change is positive or not depends on how they harness their energy.

There are positive role models out there. But until they are recognised by the media and community, most students will remain blissfully unaware and stay plugged into Facebook and their mobile phones all day instead of making their own mark on society.

Ayesha Akbar Ali is a media student at Manipal University, Dubai