Sheikha Hissa bint Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum (second from left), Goodwill Ambassador, Voices of Future Generations, awarding the winners Image Credit: Anas Thacharpadikkal/Gulf News

Dubai: From marine pollution to hunger, food security to rights of children of determination, various issues plaguing the planet became the themes of stories that fetched the top awards at the Middle East edition of the Voices of Future Generations (VoGF).

The 2022 winners of VoGF, the global writing competition for children launched under the patronage of UNESCO in 2014 and brought to the Middle East in 2019, were announced in Dubai on Sunday. The contest was created to promote awareness about the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The regional competition was organised by the Emirates Literature Foundation on behalf of Sheikha Hissa bint Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Goodwill Ambassador for the initiative for the Middle East.

At the competition’s biggest award ceremony to date, Sheikha Hissa honoured the top three winners of English and Arabic categories.

Inayah Fathima Faeez, Inaya Danish Zaidi and Mohammed Hamzah Siddiqui bagged the top three positions in English, while Nourah Ahmed Yousif Almushtaghil Alnaqbi, Rodina Ahmed Atef Badr and AbdulKareem Ghazal became their counterparts in the Arabic category. Eleven contestants each from both languages were also honoured for winning prizes in various categories.

Meeting Net Zero target

Thanking the UAE leaders for their constant efforts to meet the UN SDGs, Sheikha Hissa said: “We have a tough target to reach — Net Zero carbon emissions by the middle of the century. We can absolutely do it with brilliant minds like these. This year, there were more submissions from all over the region, addressing all 17 [SDG] goals, even the ones that are harder to grasp.”

Sheikha Hissa encouraged everyone to read the inspirational stories Image Credit: Anas Thacharpadikkal/Gulf News

She added: “There are many problems in this world. But each and every one of the children celebrated here today has proved themselves to be part of the solution. Through creative writing, they have explored some of the most important issues of our time and envisioned how we can solve them. Creativity, story-telling, passion and vision; these children have it all. I encourage everyone to read these stories, and let them inspire you. Together we can make a difference.”

Why the contest is important

Later, she told Gulf News: “I think it’s important before anything, that we hear children’s voices, hear what they think. It’s important to read their ideas, their stories. They might come up with things we’ve never thought of.”

Isobel Abulhoul, CEO and trustee, Emirates Literature Foundation, told Gulf News that the young authors are not only educating themselves, but also their peers and their communities about the topics discussed. “I believe that the young people, who are part of this competition, will go on and be tomorrow’s leaders. It is so important that we give young people a voice.”

Illustrations for the stories on display at the awards ceremony in Dubai Image Credit: Anas Thacharpadikkal/Gulf News

She added: If you want your child to be a leader, you need to share books with them. And that means choosing a book, reading a book, spending time discussing it.”

Jennifer Malton, director of VoFG and Sustainability for the Emirates Literature Foundation, said: “We need stories to fuel our imaginations and help us set course for the future we want to see.”

She pointed out that children are becoming ever more aware of the increasing pressures posed by climate change and the damage it is causing our planet. “Nothing is more motivating than reading a gripping story that confronts these issues head on and champions a relatable hero to overcome them. They are not only skilled storytellers, but they also use their knowledge and enthusiasm for sustainability to inspire others to act.”

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Champions of SDGs

Echoing the same, the winners told Gulf News that the prizes would encourage them to be more responsible towards the environment and to champion the SDGs. Inayah Fathima, whose story themed around safe disposal of medicines, said: “I feel like I am responsible to promote the SDGs and inspire my peers to also ask for a better future.”

Another winner, Abdul Kareem, said: “I am very proud of this and I promise to all to be caring of the environment and be one of the voices of the future generation.”

The event brought together the shortlisted children, their families, teachers, and the artists illustrating the stories in the two anthologies of winning stories from the previous years. The award ceremony was hosted by previous winners, Saud Ahmad Al Kaabi and Saira Thomas from the 2020 edition, and Mezna Najeeb and Abrar Ahmed Sirohey from the 2021 edition. Guests also enjoyed an exhibition of the illustrations by local artists featured in the first two anthologies of winning stories.

Registrations open

The competition, open to children aged 8 to 12, encourages children to write adventure stories about characters overcoming challenges and creating a more tolerant, sustainable world. The best entries are published in a book in Arabic and English and shared internationally.

Entries must be between 600-1,500 words long and should feature one or more of the Sustainable Development Goals, and the writer’s hopes, dreams or aspirations for a sustainable future. Entries are open to all children resident in the Gulf region and in full-time education, including those home schooling. Registrations are now open on the website of VoGF Arabia.

Top three winners in English

1. A Prescription for a Faltering Future by Inayah Fathima Faeez, Gems United Indian School, Abu Dhabi

2. The World Warrior by Inaya Danish Zaidi, The Winchester School, Dubai

3. War Candies by Mohammed Hamzah Siddiqui, Cambridge International School, Dubai

Top three winners in Arabic

1. Under Water Magic by Nourah Ahmed Yousif Almushtaghil Alnaqbi, Al-Marifa 1 School, Khor Fakkan Sharjah

2. Finding the Path to Happiness by Rodina Ahmed Atef Badr, Charity School Ajman

3. Look Inside by AbdulKareem Ghazal, Al-Shola Private School, Sharjah