Gulf News recognises winning readers for their stories that were published and had a huge impact on civic environment.

They came, they saw, they wrote - and they were heard.

Gulf News's citizen reporters are winners, once again.

The top Community Reports published on the "Your Turn" page in February set a high benchmark. Now, Gulf News passes on the baton to a select number of winners, for the month of March.

Focusing on issues that generate interest and awareness, community reports are a platform for readers to interact, share and connect.

Voicing their opinions on matters that affect the society, our readers raised important questions, sought answers from the relevant authorities and highlighted issues that impacted them on a personal level.

The community reports published in March were judged by an independent panel of senior Gulf News journalists including Associate Editor Najla Al Rostamani, Deputy Managing Editor Mick O'Reilly and UAE Editor Meher Murshed. The criteria for selection included content, issue, impact on community, responsibility and the quality of contribution.

FIRST PRIZE (Shared by two community reports)

March 29 BY: Mustafa Fatakdawala and Robson Chiambiro

REASON FOR SELECTION: The judges felt that all three reports focused on an issue faced - and often ignored - by a lot of residents. Children are putting themselves in danger when playing in residential alleys and parking lots - but do they have sufficient alternatives?

UAE Editor Meher Murshed said "[The community reports] highlight a very important issue. It is every child's right to run against the wind in a park and the authorities must build more."

Profile: Mustafa Fatakdawala is an Indian expatriate who has been in the UAE for the past five years.

A chief financial officer based in Dubai, Fatakdawala said he was exasperated with parks that prohibit children from playing football in their grassy areas.

He said: "Where are children supposed to play, if not in parks? It baffles me."

Of bringing such issues to the public domain, Fatakdawala had a positive outlook.

"In Dubai, our lifestyles are hectic and often we do not have time to follow up. But it is rewarding!"

He added that community reports were a good opportunity for readers to raise their voices and call for the attention of the authorities.

Profile: Robson Chiambiro is a Zimbabwean lecturer in the Higher Colleges of Technology, in Abu Dhabi.

He has been a resident of the emirate for two years. According to Chiambiro, the danger street games posed to children and motorists or passers-by is often understated.
He said: "It is necessary for parents to understand the consequences of letting their children play in the streets. They could cause serious damage to themselves and others."


March 25
By: Sharyn Grieve

REASON FOR SELECTION: Selected for stressing the ease and positivity with which children with special needs can be integrated into mainstream schools, the judges felt the reader's story could set an example for others.

Associate Editor Najla Al Rostamani wrote: "The success comes on two levels - one on the integration of a child with special needs and the second, on the fact that the integration had taken place in a school where children come from different backgrounds."

Profile: Sharyn Grieve is a Dubai resident and the principal of the European School of Dubai, located in Al Qusais. She said writing about how six-year-old Amir Bachache became successfully integrated in the mainstream school brings to the fore an issue that merits greater coverage.

Grieve said: "I think it is such an important subject, as many schools turn away children with special needs, thinking they will not be able to cope."

The key was in assessing the degree of disability, she said.

"In Amir's case, his impediments were purely physical and we worked together to go around it.

But I think a great deal more should be done in such matters, especially when the future of children is at stake."


March 11
BY: Majeed K. M.

REASON FOR SELECTION: The report was selected as it highlighted a key issue pertaining to everyday life - the perils of neglecting to cover the electric cables of street lamps and the danger it could pose to children.

UAE Editor Meher Murshed wrote: "Excellent example of hyper-local reporting. An important issue that is overlooked - negligence leads to trouble."

Profile: Majeed K. M., an Indian expatriate, works as a legal consultant in Abu Dhabi. He has been a resident of the UAE for the past 16 years. Bringing community and civic issues to the public platform has a very real and measurable effect. K. M. said he discovered this, mere days after his community report was published in Gulf News.

He said: "I was pleasantly surprised to see that the authorities rectified the problem. Children in the area are definitely safer because of it." Now, K. M. has a new approach to problems he sights on a daily basis.

"I have begun to consciously look for situations that could be improved and issues that other readers deserve to become aware of."