Write approach: Eliana Hambleton who won first prize in the English category. Image Credit: Supplied Photo

Abu Dhabi: New Fairytales & Fables from the UAE (NF&F) in Abu Dhabi is an Emirati cultural literacy project which conducts annual writing competitions across schools in the country. Born out of a classroom assessment programme, it has evolved into a forum to empower students to preserve and promote intangible aspects of Emirati culture and heritage.

Founded by US expat Brioné LaThrop, the NF&F initiative was launched last year with the National Writing Competition as its main tool for reviving Emirati fairy tales in particular. Schools which joined the programme hosted an internal story-writing competition with groups for children from grades 7 to 9 and 10 to 12 in English and Arabic respectively. The top three winners in each category entered the national writing competition.  

“We sent out invitations to all schools. Abu Dhabi Educational Council added the competition to their weekly circular. The Shaikh Mohammad Centre for Cultural Understanding sent out invitations to the schools in their database. All these factors gave us a participation of 110 schools. One school had over 1,000 participants alone,” said LaThrop who currently works as an independent educational consultant.

In 2009, when LaThrop was working as an English instructor at Zayed University, she founded the Kharareef Heritage & Storytelling Club to allow students to research and revive the forgotten aspects of Emirati culture. “I realised that children can be the greatest ambassadors to share knowledge with parents and families. So it was always part of the plan to expand this project from our classroom to schools across the country,” she said.

Innovative tales

NF&F was the winner in the Heritage category of the UAE’s Innovation Competition, as one of the 30 programmes that contributed to the success of the Year of Reading 2016 initiative. Winning entries from last year also got to display their work in Ferrari World during Eid Al Adha celebrations.

“It was an experience that inspired me to research long after I had submitted my story,” said Eliana Hambleton, a 12th grader from Abu Dhabi Homeschoolers Association who bagged first place in the English category.

Roaa Helal, a grade 9 student of Emirates National School who won second prize in Arabic, said: “I decided to challenge myself because I never tried writing a fairytale story before.”

LaThrop said that next year’s competition will begin in January and they will accept entries till March 4. It will include oral contests to inspire the new generation to enjoy fairytales better. “We are also working on publishing the tales as they are so creatively inspiring and require a larger platform beyond the competition itself,” she said.

She said that 30 new schools have already expressed interest in next year’s competition. “While we are only open to grades 7-12, we would encourage schools to include other grades in their internal competition as well.”