Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 25 August 2019

Meet the Emirati teenagers who have been promoting tolerance in the US

Eight students travelled from Abu Dhabi to Baltimore to spread the message of peace

For the past four years, Grade 11 students from the American International School in Abu Dhabi have been annually travelling to Maryland in the US to promote a message of tolerance. This year was no different, as eight Emirati pupils – two girls and six boys – took part in the Better Understanding for a Better World programme and conference, and a week-long journey through Baltimore that included giving a presentation about the UAE to a group of Grade 10 students at Loch Raven High School.

Look through the photo gallery above to see more from the trip.

“The goal of this trip is to break down barriers and open minds,” explains Jodi Gratman, secondary assistant principal at the UAE school. “Each year’s trip is unique as a result of the students who attend. This year, that included a more varied group and our first International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme attendee.”

Going there, you see that people aren’t different at all. We all want the same things

Ali Al Saboosi, student at the American International School in Abu Dhabi

Gratman, who organises the whole trip, every year consults with past participants and creates a new schedule based on feedback for the next cohort. In 2019, this included for the first time visits to Baltimore’s UAE Embassy and Goucher College. They also went – as they do every year – to the Sheikh Zayed Institute at the Children’s National Hospital in Washington DC, to read to children as representatives of Sheikha Shamma bint Sultan bin Khalifa’s organisation, Wanna Read?

Sheikh Zayed Tower at Johns Hopkins Hospital was next on the itinerary, and later in the week they went to the National Aquarium of Baltimore. But perhaps the most interesting part of the international field trip for everyone was the day the students went to a church, synagogue and mosque, where they stayed to pray and have lunch, while taking part in an interfaith discussion.

At a church in Baltimore. The same day saw the students also visit a synagogue and mosque, where they prayed, had lunch and had an interfaith discussion. Courtesy American International School in Abu Dhabi
At a church in Baltimore. The same day saw the students also visit a synagogue and mosque, where they prayed, had lunch and had an interfaith discussion. Courtesy American International School in Abu Dhabi

Student Ahmed Zoghbor, who attended this year’s programme, said that this, for him, was one of the most memorable parts of the trip. “How can I forget the moments we had in the mosque and how all 98 students from all around the world with different beliefs accepted each other by showing the will to learn and understand our beliefs by praying together in the mosque?

Me and my friends also got to go to different temples and learn each other’s philosophies and see how our beliefs aren’t that different after all.”

This, for many of the students who flew to Baltimore this year, was the main takeaway. “It is very in line with the Year of Tolerance here in the UAE,” comments another student, Ali Al Saboosi. “Going there, you see that people aren’t different at all. Everyone’s the same in the end and we all want the same things.”

Students from American International School in Abu Dhabi, at the Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation at the Children's National Health System in Washington, DC. Courtesy American International School in Abu Dhabi
Students from American International School in Abu Dhabi, at the Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation at the Children's National Health System in Washington, DC. Courtesy American International School in Abu Dhabi

While this focus on the promotion of understanding between cultures is the primary aim of this programme, which was founded in Baltimore, the trip was also designed to instil within the students – many of whom have never before left home without their family – new skills for life.

Fatima Al Braiki says choosing to go has been one of the most significant decisions she’s made in her life so far. “It has granted me the opportunity to develop my skills on an academic as well as an interpersonal level. I have learned responsibility, leadership and time management, all of which are components of an effective leader and individual,” she says.

Hammad Al Dhaheri agrees, saying he left America feeling much more confident. “My most memorable moment is when we sat down in the conference and started to talk about religions and cultures. I expanded my view … and after I left, I felt more confident to talk to complete strangers.”

Zoghbor says the conference also changed his world view, adding that he relished “simply being in a room filled with [people from] 38 different countries from all around the world, all helping and accepting each other to resolve the problems that our countries face individually. It’s still crazy to process the fact that we all came with different cultures and different languages, but were still able to sing along to the same songs we listen to on the radio every day.”

Students give their presentation on the UAE to a group of Grade 10 pupils at Loch Raven High School in Baltimore. Courtesy American International School in Abu Dhabi
Students give their presentation on the UAE to a group of Grade 10 pupils at Loch Raven High School in Baltimore. Courtesy American International School in Abu Dhabi

Students also felt a strong sense of patriotism while they were there. Meera Al Balooshi said the tour of the Sheikh Zayed Tower at Johns Hopkins Hospital, in particular, was an eye-opener for her. “The sense of pride that accompanied the tour was surreal,” she admits.

“Being a representative of the American International School in Abu Dhabi, as well as the United Arab Emirates, was an honour.”

Gratman is still ironing out the details for next year, but she hopes she’ll be able to continue taking the students from Abu Dhabi to Baltimore, cultivating friendships and encouraging the students to become the “leaders of tomorrow” along the way.

“I hope that, as a result of this experience, our students develop an understanding and appreciation for the diversity of the world and that encourages them to work as peace-makers.”

Updated: May 24, 2019 01:45 AM

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