Ahmad Al Mazroui, an Emirati student with special needs, samples dates at a stall in the Liwa Date Festival. Special needs’ bodies participated in the event. Image Credit: Abdul Rahman/Gulf News

Western Region: The seventh annual Liwa Date Festival is not only about dates.

On the sidelines of the ten-day event, which ends today, humanitarian organisations have raised awareness about their services and projects designed to support underprivileged people.

General Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, attended the Liwa Date Festival on Tuesday.

One such organisation is the UAE Red Crescent Authority (RCA). Samira Al Ameri, responsible for marketing and exhibitions at RCA, told Gulf News: "We use the festival to highlight our Al Ghadeer scheme, which provides support for Emirati women through training and entrepreneurship workshops to enhance their skills and teach them how to market their products better."

"This allows them to support their families while also preserving traditional handicraft skills."

According to Samira, having a presence at such events allows organisations such as the RCA to raise awareness about their efforts. It also provide residents of Liwa and the Western Region with an opportunity to learn about programmes such as Al Ghadeer and how they can help Emirati families.

"We are focusing on low-income Emirati families who are always seeking ways to supplement their earnings, whether from their farms or other sources," she said. "We have already successfully partnered with various businesses, hotels and other organisations to supply traditional handicrafts as gifts or decoration."

Representatives of the Zayed Higher Organisation for Humanitarian and Special Needs also said such festivals provide them with a great platform to raise awareness about their organisation and to answer queries or concerns about people with special needs.

Students' achievements

"Unfortunately, having children and relatives with special needs is still seen as shameful — or even a taboo — in the region but we're addressing that by showing some of our students' achievements, whether in embroidery, candle-making or metalwork," said Alaa Al Arnaouty, Media Coordinator for the organisation.

"We are also showing people video clips of our students operating various equipment, including computers, so visitors can see that people with special needs are just as capable as normal people."

A student of the organisation was present at the festival to interact with visitors, who often inquired about the organisation after speaking with him. This helped raise awareness about the potential of those with special needs, Al Arnaouty said.

"The student has become somewhat of an ambassador for us… he's having a wonderful time and everyone's treating him very kindly," Al Arnaouty added. "By having such interactions and showing that those with special needs are approachable, we are able to have more successful discussions with visitors to our stand, whether parents or relatives of those with special needs or representatives of organisations who want to partner with us.

"The more awareness we raise, the more we are able to help open doors for our students. But the special needs community still needs more support from the government, which they will hopefully receive as this topic becomes more mainstream," he added.

— With inputs by Sarah Hassan, Staff Reporter

  • What: Liwa Date Festival
  • When: July 12 - 21
  • Where: Western Region
  • Entry: Free
  • Website: www.liwadatesfestival.ae