x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Children join National Day celebration

Children arrived at the British School Al Khubairat with tiny flags and trays of treats, wearing every possible combination of red, green, white and black.

Almost every pupil, aged between three and 18, was decked out in a celebratory costume.
Almost every pupil, aged between three and 18, was decked out in a celebratory costume.

ABU DHABI // Children arrived at the British School Al Khubairat yesterday with tiny flags and trays of treats, wearing every possible combination of red, green, white and black.

When they saw the tunnel of balloons at the school's entrance, some stared open-mouthed. Others grinned or squealed in delight. Inside was a feast of National Day surprises: Emirati food, elaborate tents, singing, dancing and falcons.

But the biggest surprise was a visit from the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sheikh Abdullah.

Sheikh Abdullah came to see his own children - pupils at the school - and watch the celebratory assembly.

"We're delighted to welcome Sheikh Abdullah," said Mark Yeowell, the head teacher of the primary school. "We always make a big show of National Day. It's important to us as a school."

For the Emirati sisters Sara and Zuhoor Al Sayegh, yesterday was about showing their classmates traditional hospitality. They set up a tent on the campus, handing out sweets called lugaymaat.

"Everybody is doing something," said Sara, 18. "It's part of our culture to serve and host."

Zuhoor, 14, added: "This school is such a community, especially during events like this."

The British School Al Khubairat was founded in 1968, not long before the country united.

Yesterday, almost every pupil, aged between three and 18, was decked out in a celebratory costume. Some wore Emirati national dress while others donned flowing gowns or festive-coloured gear: sequined masks, knee-high socks, feathered boas.

Several boys carried falcons through the hallways, allowing their friends to experience another Emirati tradition.

"Do you want to pet him?" asked Sultan Al Mehairbi, balancing a bird on his arm.

The tent where he displayed the falcon was designed to show other pupils "our old days", said Sultan, 14.

"It makes me proud," he said of National Day. "It's the first time where everybody can do what they do, go in the car and have fun, wave the flags, be proud of the country, know they're safe."

About 12 per cent of students at the school are Emirati but the celebration "is equally important for everyone", Mr Yeowell said.

"It's just a chance to congratulate the UAE for all its efforts," said Annalisa Clarke, mother of five-year-old twin girls at the school. "We enjoy the peace and harmony in which we live."

Ms Clarke, 45, from the UK, said her children had been "so excited" about the celebration.

"I've lived here 22 years this year and it's just amazing," she said. "It seems to be the biggest celebration. Even the parents are dressing up."

"It's really great to see," added Lula Yusuf, the mother of a four-year-old boy at the school.

Ms Yusuf, 32, a Canadian of Somali origin, said National Day was a time to reflect on the UAE's history. "It shows the children all about unity," she said.

vnereim@thenational.ae