Dubai: They have defeated almost 13.5 million children from the Arab region and held the names of their countries high in one of the largest educational competitions in the world.

The five finalists of the fourth Arab Reading Challenge are now all set to vie for the final title at Dubai Opera on Wednesday.

Speaking to Gulf News ahead of the grand finale which will be telecast live, the finalists comprising four girls and a boy narrated how the initiative by the UAE is giving a major push for the Arabic language. It is encouraging the young generation to make reading part of their lifestyle and celebrate the power of the written word and the impact it has on the Arab nations’ growth, they said.

Launched in 2015 as one of the Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives to promote Arabic reading among the youth, the annual event with Dh11 million worth of cash prizes is the largest knowledge movement across educational institutions in the Arab world.

Kuwaiti finalist Abdul Aziz Al Khaldi pointed out that the initiative is the primary reason behind the exponential increase in the number of young Arab readers in the region.

“Through the platform of the Arab Reading Challenge, I would be able to share my voice that I hope would leave a mark, and I’ve already began to see that impact on the young Arab readers and this generation of educated young Arabs.”

“We hope and believe that with initiatives like these, we will achieve a culturally and socially aware generation and an Arab nation that reads. A nation with a history will never wither, and we will bring back the Arab nations’ glory and pride,” said Al Khaldi.

Echoing the same opinion, Jumana Al Malki from Saudi Arabia said the competition has given young Arabs a voice that extends towards non-readers.

“Reading is an imperative platform. Reading enriches nations. Reading moves generations forwards. Reading is a source of knowledge. This is what we need and why publicising this event is important. It would assist in spreading the culture of reading and leads to a more enriched society.”

Pushing boundaries in reading

Fatima Al Zahra Akhyar from Morocco said the initiative from the UAE is an important push and a celebration of the Arabic language, not only in the UAE but all over the Arab world.

“I also learnt to widen the range of books I read. This challenge has given me the drive to explore reading topics and genres that I would not normally prefer, but I was able to enjoy and acquire a taste for all types of books.”

Hadeel Anwar Al Zubair from Sudan said the challenge has instilled reading as part of her life.

“The most important aspect that Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid was aiming for is awakening the Arab youth with the power of reading.”

She said the challenge has further fuelled her quest for reading. “This year I’ve set a goal of 1000 books to be completed before the end of 2019. So far I have read 766.”

‘Giving up is not an option’

Having failed in her first attempt in the competition three years ago, Aya Boutreea re-applied this year “to prove to myself that giving up is not an option, that I have the persistence to make it through and reinforcing my belief in my own abilities,” the Tunisian finalist said.

“I invite everyone to participate in this Arab Reading Challenge because this project reinforces our passion for reading. Let your aspirations broaden, believe in yourself and overcome the routine difficulties,” said Boutreea.

Saudi finalist Al Malki also advised prospective participants to always seek more knowledge through the competition. “At the end of the day, this is not about the competition, it is about enriching a nation, it is about spreading culture,” she said.


What will they do if they win the title?

Hadeel Anwar Al Zubair, Sudan

“If I am named the champion in this competition, I would like to dedicate this title to every reader, to those who make the Arab nation proud, and to every young Arab doing their part in celebrating their heritage. As for the financial prize, I hope to initiate and open a library in Sudan where all types of books could be found to enrich the culture of reading in my hometown.”

Abdul Aziz Al Khaldi, Kuwait

“My participation was not fueled by the financial prize. If I did indeed win, I will use part of this prize to support the battle against cancer. Caring for cancer patients is a must, some of them do not have the means to seek treatment. I want to contribute in relieving their pains. I’d also like to utilize the prize towards my higher education.”

Fatima Al Zahra Akhyar, Morocco

“Winning this competition would be a great motivation for me to reach for successes I could not have dreamed about. It’ll help me be distinguished not only in the fields of literature but also in my scientific fields. It will be a motivation and an inspiration that will reinforce my belief that those who work hard will succeed.”

Aya Boutreea, Tunisia

“If I win this award, I’ll aspire to work harder on myself, to develop my talents and to be an inspiration to many people. The financial prize would open many doors for me, to develop and apply my skills in the future.”

Jumana Al Malki, Saudi Arabia

“Winning this title of the Arab Reading Champion would be a big responsibility. Receiving it would give me great joy and my journey will continue after this, as I am a reader now and always.”