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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 22 June 2018

Emirati florist draws in the crowds and challenges stereotypes at WorldSkills

Meet the UAE national team embracing crafts and technical skills

Eissa Al Marzooqi, 22, a WorldSkills competitor, wants to "change that idea in our culture" that an Emirati man could not be a florist. Antonie Robertson / The National
Eissa Al Marzooqi, 22, a WorldSkills competitor, wants to "change that idea in our culture" that an Emirati man could not be a florist. Antonie Robertson / The National

Eissa Al Marzooqi was attracting so much attention at WorldSkills Abu Dhabi, organisers were forced to place a volunteer by his work station to help control the spectators.

It seemed like everyone wanted to witness for themselves the first young Emirati man to compete in floristry in WorldSkills history.

And, how did this fact make him feel?

“Alhamdulillah, unique!” the tall, 22-year-old said proudly at the end of the third day of competition on Tuesday.

Although a mechanical engineer by academic training, Mr Al Marzooqi was introduced to floristry when his school, Abu Dhabi Polytechnic, took part in a recent EmiratesSkills competition.

He was the only male student to compete in that national floristry challenge, and his presence didn’t go without notice – he won gold.

Although he values engineering, he said he finds more pleasure working with flowers.

“I enjoy it because, as you can see, the flowers – they are for classy people with a luxurious life,” he said, sweeping his hand across the competition space, which was filled with cream and pink orchids and tropical flowers in vivid colours.

A large, golden-framed portrait of the country’s rulers rested on top of Mr Al Marzooqi’s work station, next to his toolbox, as though they were watching him with pride.

“Every time I wear my traditional kandura and ghutra, people would think I would not go for this floristry - that it’s a silly and easy thing but, no, I want to change that idea in our culture,” he said. “I want to create the first school in our country for floristry, and I want to develop myself further in this. I will continue, inshallah, with some institute or some school in Europe.”

Mr Al Marzooqi’s example seemed to already be having a positive effect among his spectators.

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Noora Al Remeithi, an Emirati visitor from Dubai, watched the young man with awe as he arranged the plants and flowers for a table display. A large UAE flag hung behind him.

“We are happy to see from our nationality an Emirati guy who is, yanni, doing this stuff,” said Ms Al Remeithi.

“It is new for our culture - a boy or young man organising flowers - but if he loves to do this stuff, the culture, the country, the people, they have to support him,” said Ms Al Remeithi, who works for the Ministry of Education.

Ms Al Remeithi’s colleague, Abeer Faisal, agreed, adding: “We are very proud of him.”

But Mr Al Marzooqi wasn’t the only Emirati competitor to bust gender stereotypes at WorldSkills and inspire pride in his fellow citizens.

Down the hall, in an area full of young men, another Emirati stood out as the only woman – of any nationality – to enter the refrigeration and air conditioning competition.

Roudha Bin Bahr, 22, had to have two volunteers stationed by her work space to gently warn fans to keep a safe distance and not interfere with her work. She also became an instant celebrity, conducting numerous interviews with journalists daily.

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES. 17 AUGUST 2017. Roudha Bin Barh, 22, Refrigeration and Air conditioning. World Skills Competition. (Photo: Antonie Robertson/The National) Journalist: Roberta Penington. Section: Business.
Roudha Bin Bahr, 22, from the Emirati team, competes in the refrigeration and air conditioning event at WorldSkills. Antonie Robertson / The National

“This is the third one today,” said Ms Bin Bahr, who studies chemical engineering at the United Arab Emirates University.

“I even had one with the China media.”

But the extra attention doesn’t bother her if it means it can alter the public’s perception about gender roles and stereotypes.

“When I was asking about this skill, they told me that no Emirati woman has participated in that before,” said Ms Bin Bahr.

“But I was trying to make the thing I wanted to happen. So, I started to communicate with more than one person to provide materials for the training. Because no ladies had participated and no one in the UAE had participated in this skill, specifically. I’m, like, opening the chance for other young people in the UAE. Next time, there are going to be more ladies, inshallah."

Ahmad Aboud, the UAE refrigeration and air conditioning expert, said he was proud of his apprentice.

“We are really very happy that she is the only Arab woman,” said Mr Aboud.

“The Arab woman, she can do everything.”