Dubai: Aqil Rashid, a 15-year-old UAE resident, won the Just Falafel (JF) online global university scholarship competition last week after receiving more than 6,000 total online votes.
He has won the chance to study at any university of his choice fully paid for by the local falafel chain which launched the competition earlier this year.
I feel so blessed to have won this honour and I'm so relieved to have lifted a great financial burden from my parents' shoulders
"I feel so blessed to have won this honour and I'm so relieved to have lifted a great financial burden from my parents' shoulders," said the grade 11 student.
"It's is absolutely amazing to have the opportunity to study at any university in the world without having to worry about money."
The competition saw more than 60 entrants from around the world upload a two-minute video on the company's website, explaining why they deserved to win the scholarship.
Shortlisted candidates later had to upload a video explaining how they would pay it forward if they won the scholarship.
The company opened its doors in Abu Dhabi in 2007.
Rashid is still a secondary school student and will have to wait three years to cash in his prize.
"The technicalities of the scholarship are still being negotiated between us and Aqil and his parents; but our agreement will ensure Aqil is protected," said Mohammad Bitar, managing director of JF.
"However, there will be conditions such as maintaining good academic standing and completing the degree within the typical four years."
The winner was decided by a combination of public online votes and anonymous JF staff votes.
Rashid's first choice is Stanford University to read a water resource management or quality degree. The teenager is already active in raising funds to build wells in Afghanistan under his 1well700lives initiative found on www.facebook.com/1well700lives. To date he has raised more than $25,000 (Dh91,250) since he became passionate about facilitating access to clean water for poor people two years ago.
Rashid took action when he became aware there were children in other parts of the world who miss out on education to walk long distances to access water.
"The statistics are crazy. One child passes away every 15 seconds somewhere in the world due to water-related diseases," he said.
"In the UAE we treat it as our divine right to simply pick up a bottle of clean drinking water, but the fact of the matter is in other countries kids our age miss school every day to walk for miles to get water, which might not even be safe."
For this reason, Rashid's online entry to the competition pledged a goal to have a widespread reach in society through his education.
"Through my university education I can continue what I'm doing, but on a much larger scale," he said.
"This JF scholarship will literally be the gift that keeps on giving."
Ever the proud father of three, Safdar Rashid is ‘elated' at his son's victory.
"Although this does relieve us of a huge financial burden it is also a wonderful opportunity for Aqil and I hope he lives up to it, which I have no doubt he will."