Dubai A handful of UAE residents have been shortlisted for the finals of a global online competition offering a full university scholarship to one needy student, launched by a local falafel chain.
Gulf News reported the launch of the competition in January after the founders of Just Falafel (JF) announced the opportunity. The winner will be selected from among 15 finalists by a combination of public and JF staff votes and is expected to be announced next week.
"We had more than 60 videos from around the world and we shortlisted 15 entries based on a combination of public voting and staff votes," said Mohammad Bitar, Managing Director of JF. "The feedback has been amazing and we've truly been overwhelmed by the talent."
The company announced the competition as a way of giving back to the world due to its business success since it first opened its doors in Abu Dhabi in 2007. A success, Bitar attributes to the food outlet's customers.
"After last year's profit we thought it was time to give back because the brand is only growing because of its fans," said Bitar. The company has set aside approximately Dh1.4 million to fully educate the winner at any university of the student's choice.
For the first part of the competition entrants had to upload a two minute video explaining, by any means, why they deserve to win the scholarship.
The shortlisted candidates have now uploaded a video explaining how they would pay it forward if they were to win the scholarship.
Aqil Rashid, 15, hails from Pakistan but was born and raised in the UAE. At the time this story went to print he was leading the final battle with 468 public votes.
He has been actively raising funds to build wells in Afghanistan for the past two years and has to date managed to raise $25,000 (Dh91,250).
"This scholarship would be amazing because it would give me to access an education in the world's best universities which I wouldn't otherwise be able to access," he said.
"I'm aiming for an Ivy League school to concentrate on two main areas of water management and water policy."
Rashid became passionate about water after he realised 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."
Tatiana Khovanskaya, also a UAE resident, hopes to win the scholarship to pursue a master's in clinical psychology at the UAE University to then practice the profession and help people with depression.
"Depression is extremely widespread and there is a certain stigma that depressed people are weak but it is a mental condition and can happen to anyone," she said.
"The UAE is a highly stressful environment and therefore people are less inclined to talk about their problems which can lead to depression."
Khovanskaya has first hand experience with depression and is well aware of the effects it has on not only an individual, but their friends and family too.
"When someone is depressed, they are not just sad, they stop living and don't contribute to society and everyone else around them is contaminated."
She added for this reason she believes with the scholarship she would be able to help spread awareness about the condition and help people in the UAE suffering from depression.
How to vote
To watch and vote for all final entries log onto www.facebook.com/justfalafel and click on the Win a Scholarship icon. Voting closes on April 21.