People participate in the Spirit of the Union Parade at Yas Island in Abu Dhabi to celebrate National Day of the UAE. Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

Abu Dhabi: As the UAE celebrates its 50th year, a heartwarming initiative is seeking to tell the stories of its earliest unsung heroes.

The Federal Youth Authority’s Early Dreamers Project is looking at roping in residents to tell the stories of people who’ve grown with the UAE and contributed to its mesmerising 50-year journey in ways big and small. Launched last month in collaboration with the Golden Jubilee Committee, the initiative urges ‘all who call the UAE home’ to contribute.

First entries

Already, a dedicated webpage, uaeyearof.ae, features photographs and stories of a necklace, a vintage mirror, and a telegram. Another set of stories feature the testimonials of an Emirati pilot who flew the UAE’s founding father, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, on aerial tours, and an Emirati who shared pictures of Abu Dhabi rulers setting a trend by being pictured in sunglasses.


While these stories are an interesting starting point, there is still room for many more to be featured on the project’s social media channels until the June 30 deadline.

Why early dreamers

NAT Shamma Al Mazroui-1615736607195
Shamma Al Mazrui, UAE Minister of State for Youth and member of the UAE Golden Jubilee Committee. Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

“We are a nation of dreamers who do — from the early dreamers who helped build our country from the ground up, to the dreamers of today who work tirelessly to build on that foundation, to the dreamers of tomorrow, like our youth, who will one day lead our country forward. To celebrate the Year of the 50th, we want to hear from these dreamers. We hope to give names and faces to the people whose ambitions have contributed to the UAE’s success story. These dreamers can be found in every household across the country. Hearing their stories will help us understand what it took to get to where we are today, and allow us to recognise and celebrate their contributions as we prepare for the future,” Shamma Al Mazrui, UAE Minister of State for Youth and member of the UAE Golden Jubilee Committee, said at the launch of the initiative.

In addition to shedding light on untold narratives of the UAE, the project will also connect youth with their elders.

How the youth benefit

“It is essential that young people play a part in telling these stories; it allows them to truly grasp all that has happened in the past 50 years, and motivates them to plan the next 50 years. Our objective is to then create a written record of the thousands of stories from those who have witnessed the establishment of the UAE, lived through its successive stages of development and construction, and now enjoy the progress and prosperity we have achieved,” said Saeed Al Nazari, director-general at the Federal Youth Authority.

“These dreamers set the perfect example for our youth today, inspiring them to work hard and persevere in order to achieve our country’s development goals and its ambitions to be a leader in every sector,” he added.

Helpful resources

The organisers have already released a guide on how to start the conversation with ‘early dreamers’, and how to capture the details in an engaging manner. It prompts residents to get into the humble details of their parents’ and grandparents’ lives, and discover the range of achievements that have helped build the UAE.

The initiative is ostensibly open to both Emiratis and residents, and is still welcoming entries.

Submission guidelines
* 3-5 photographs of the ‘early dreamer’ who is the subject of the story. It can be a family member, a pioneer or an ordinary member of early UAE society who made an impact on the story teller.
* 250-word text that answers the following questions:
1. Who is the ‘dreamer’ you are sharing a story about?
2. What is the person’s relation to you?
3. When and where was this person born?
4. When do the details of your story unfold?
5. What makes this person or story special?
6. What did you learn from this person or their story?
7. What makes you proud of this person?
There are also prompts to answer the questions separately and to upload images and clips. Submit your story on their website.
*Submit your story on the uaeyearof.ae website.

Some tips from the Federal Youth Authority

Celebrate your family and share their stories: Our parents and grandparents are so humble. They don’t think of themselves as heroes. Yet over their lifetimes, while achieving their own dreams and aspirations — they’ve each played an important role in building our nation. As artists, entrepreneurs, scientists, engineers, teachers, and more — each person has helped build our nation in their own unique way, both Emiratis as well as people who came here from other nations and stayed to build alongside us. We need your help in finding these heroes — the people whose dreams and hard work combined to help build the modern nation we all enjoy today. Help us tell their stories.

Discover your subject: The first step in telling your family stories is to discover them. Speak with your parents and grandparents — ask them questions, hear their stories. Conversations are a skill and just like anything else — it takes practice.

In 50 years, our nation has changed dramatically, so think about who in your family lived through that change? Have you heard tales from your family, but never gotten the full story? Allow yourself space to be curious.

Ask questions: You could also start by asking about something personal to your family. For instance, is there an heirloom in your house, but you don’t know its history?

Start the conversation: Start the conversation in a suitable setting. So if your parents or grandparents tend to shy away from personal conversations, try to speak with them in private. If they have a tendency to tell stories in a group, take advantage of your next family meal or gathering.

Be persistent: Think about what you want to learn. Prepare your questions and prompts. Keep asking if you get one-word responses until you get to the heart of the story. Ask about your subject’s life, and how they spent their days. Follow up with “Tell me more about ...”. Stay curious and see where the conversation goes.

Reflect on what you have learnt: This will help shape your story. You can focus on something you did not know before, or something you found surprising or unexpected.

Questions to try:

  • * When you were my age, how did you spend your time?
  • * What were some of your biggest worries while you were growing up? How do you feel about them now?
  • * When you were growing up, what was your neighbourhood like? How did it change over time?
  • * What is a moment in your childhood you wish you could relive and why?
  • * What led you into your profession? What has been your favourite part of your career?
  • * What was your hardest experience? What are you most proud of?
  • * Did you ever think about how the UAE might look in the future? What has changed that you didn’t expect? What part of the current UAE continues to surprise you?
  • * In which period of your life did you see the most change happening? Do you remember how you felt about it at the time? How do you feel now?
  • * What’s the single most important piece of advice you’ve learnt that you would want my generation to remember?
  • * If you could thank anyone in our family for what they have contributed to our success, who would you thank? How do you think they have contributed beyond our family and to our community?
  • * Think about how the UAE has evolved; what do you think is the most important achievement you’ve seen in the past 50 years? What fills you with the most pride?