x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 25 November 2017

Palestinian teenager declared Arab Reading Challenge winner

Winners announced at ceremony at Dubai Opera attended by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashed, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid listens to Afaf Raed, 17, from Palestine, after he awarded her the trophy for winning the Arab Reading Challenge. Christopher Pike / The National
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid listens to Afaf Raed, 17, from Palestine, after he awarded her the trophy for winning the Arab Reading Challenge. Christopher Pike / The National

A Palestinian girl has won this year’s Arab Reading Challenge ahead of a record 7.4 million participants across the Arab world and with it a prize of US$150,000.

Afaf Raed, 17, has won the overall award in the challenge to read 50 Arabic books a year.

She finished ahead of the other regional winners that had already been announced: Hafsa Al Thunhani from the UAE; Shatha Al Twaiqi from Saudi Arabia; Sherif Saeed from Egypt; and Bushra Maison from Algeria. Egypt’s Sherif Saif finished second and the Eman School in Bahrain won the school prize, picking up US$1 million (Dh3.7m) for its efforts.

The winner’s ceremony took place at Dubai Opera on Wednesday morning and saw total prize money of about Dh11m being dished out.

It was attended by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, who said: “I am very pleased that we reached 7.4 million participants in the Arab Reading Challenge.”

A video played during the ceremony showed Sheikh Mohammed saying, “In my life, a day that goes by without learning something new is a day wasted”.

The record-breaking number of participants is more than double the 3.5 million last year, and about 318,000 pupils from more than 900 UAE schools competed, again a 100 per cent increase in pupils on last year. The 7.4 million participants came from 41,000 schools in 25 Arab countries.

A panel of judges vote for winners based on the book summaries given by each participant, and even the audience at Dubai Opera on Wednesday voted.

Afaf, who’s in grade 12 at Albera High School in Palestine, said: “We are all winners in the Arab Reading Challenge. Every experience a person goes through remains a source of strength throughout that person’s life.”

Afaf thanked her family and people who supported her during her journey in the challenge.

When a judge asked her before winning the prize about the reasons why she read, she replied: “You ask me why I read. However, I ask you why not to read? Reading adds life to our thoughts. Only by words, we are able to solve the community’s problems.

“Winning the Arab Reading Challenge was not an easy task but I dared to face myself and challenges that might stop me. I advise people to dare life's challenges and overcome them and to believe in themselves.

“I dedicate this win to Al Quds and Palestine.”

Afaf said that she plans to study medicine in the future.

“I am very happy to receive this award. This award has linked all Arabs and it revived a mechanism for creativity,” she said. “We truly need this type of challenge as science, knowledge and technology are important aspects for communities’ development.”

She also thanked Sheikh Mohammed for creating such an initiative.

Furat Abdul Al Hai, principal of Eman School in Bahrain, said the challenge is saving the Arab language, which was being lost to a new generation that prefers to speak English.

“The Arab language is part of our identity and at our school we have a vision for students to read more books and novels in Arabic,” she said. “I believe that the Arab Reading Challenge is the first of its kind."

Sherif Saeed, the 18-year-old who came second, said that reading “allows a person to live 1,000 lives”.

“I advise people to read. It will give them a different aspect in their lives. I have read thousands of books but participated by reading 50,” said the student at Al Azhar University, who is fond of reading about politics, economics and Islamic studies.

“I read about everything. Every book interests me.”

Bushra, the Algerian winner who came fifth overall, added: “Most of the books I read were about thought, personal development and Islamic studies.

“Reading makes me think critically and form opinions. I started reading when I was very young. Reading has made the person I am today.”

A touching moment came at the beginning of the ceremony, when Sheikh Mohammed paid tribute to the parents of Fatima Ghulam, an Algerian school pupil who died in an car accident on her way to take part in her country’s reading challenge finals.

Her father, Ghulam Ahmed, 60, told The National: “Fatima was a brilliant student and a loving daughter.

“She wanted to become a writer. Although some people were making fun of her dream, she never cared and wanted to work hard to achieve her dreams.”

Sheikh Mohammed ordered that a library is built in her name, though no further details were given.

Read more: Sheikh Mohammed congratulates UAE winner of Arab Reading Challenge