Sun-seekers to sergeants: UAE Year of Reading gets everyone on same page

Danielle Green
Danielle Green

Two months into the UAE’s Year of Reading and the nation is getting behind it with a myriad of innovative initiatives

You’re a municipal authority in a country that boasts pristine beaches and year-round sunshine. You’ve been tasked with boosting your local population’s reading rates. So, what do you do?

You set up a string of libraries on public beaches that you know are frequented by thousands of people annually. Elementary.

Dubai’s ‘Reading on Beach’ initiative was launched in response to a directive by the UAE leadership that 2016 would be a national ‘Year of Reading’.

The Year of Reading aims to turn picking up a book into a popular and lifelong habit among the UAE population, especially its youth.

Organised by Dubai Municipality, Reading on Beach will encourage beach-goers to take out books for entertainment alongside swimming and sunbathing, with volumes returned at the end of each trip.

Books can be borrowed from special solar-powered kiosks that will be accessible day and at night.

It is a smart solution to an important challenge and is matched by a slew of initiatives by government bodies, companies and employers across the Emirates.

Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA), which employs more than 9,000 staff, has teamed with the Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation (MBRF) to roll out a series of programmes to encourage city-wide reading and knowledge dissemination.

These include the ‘Reading is Positive Energy’ initiative, which will organise cultural activities aimed at fostering a love of books; a book fair at the city’s Zabeel Park, which will include a pavilion dedicated to Emirati publishers; and sponsorship of some units of a new Knowledge Chair ‘micro-library’.

‘Parents should be mindful that many children would like more time to indulge their love of reading, but find it hard to do so as their days are so packed. More than anything we need parents to be involved in their children’s reading habits’ 

Isobel Abulhoul, Director, Emirates Airline Festival of Literature

Additional strands will deliver training courses and campaigns aimed at teaching the basics of Arabic reading, as well providing sources of knowledge around a diversity of fields including renewables and clean-tech.

HE Saeed Mohammad Al Tayer, Managing Director and CEO of DEWA, said the initiatives would play a pivotal role in embedding a culture of reading among UAE nationals. “It will ensure effecting a positive change in our society by bringing up and raising a cultured generation of readers.”

Even the nation’s police forces are getting on board. ‘Let’s Read’, an initiative launched by Major General Ali Al Nuaimi, Chief of Ras Al Khaimah Police, will see books distributed to every one of that organisation’s employees.

And across the UAE, a group of school librarians has joined forces to share reading programmes successfully implemented in their own schools. These include bringing in employees from local businesses to spend time reading with weaker students on a one-to-one basis.

Importantly, there will be a renewed focus on supporting local authors, a keystone initiative being ‘1,001 Titles’, which aims to release 1,001 Emirati publications over the next two years.

This will include exempting authors and publishers from the International Standard Book Number (ISBN) fees for books that make it into print.

Knowledge Without Borders, the organisation behind the programme, hopes it will help enrich the body of Arabic literature, while encouraging a new generation of authors.

“Supporting local authors and publishers means boosting the UAE’s contribution to enriching Arab culture and we hope that these books will touch readers’ hearts and minds and serve as an incentive for young Emiratis to be creative and fulfil their ambitions to become writers,” said HE Shaikha Budoor Bint Sultan Al Qasimi, Head of the Organising Committee of Knowledge without Borders and founder and Honorary President of the Emirates Publishers Association (EPA).

Taking a keen interest in the Year of Reading project is the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, which has commissioned a survey to track the reading habits of Dubai’s schoolchildren.

One of the survey’s early findings is that over 50 per cent of the children regret not having more time to read during the day.

Festival Director Isobel Abulhoul called on parents’ to heed children’s concerns and give them space to develop a love of reading.  

“Today’s children have a bewildering range of activities to choose from in their leisure time so it is heartening to see that reading for pleasure is still high on the agenda,” she said.

“Parents should be mindful that many children would like more time to indulge their love of reading, but find it hard to do so as their days are so packed. More than anything we need parents to be involved in their children’s reading habits.”