Government units mark Year of Reading

Mohammed Al Gergawi, Minister of Cabinet Affairs in the Federal Government of the UAE. (SUPPLIED)

Mohammed Abdulla Al Gergawi, Chairman of the Higher Supervisory Committees for Year of Reading and UAE Minister of State for Cabinet Affairs and the Future, said, "There are more than 340 major reading initiatives and activities taking place across the country involving over 100 local entities working in co-ordination with the Higher Supervisory Committees for Year of Reading to achieve the objectives of this initiative. The aim is to weave the habit of reading into the very fabric of UAE society to nurture a generation of readers."

"The Year of Reading is intended to be a stepping stone to change in the UAE’s society, a shift in habits and behaviours towards building a culture of reading and making it an inherent part of people’s lives. These important programmes and initiatives aim to promote reading as a social habit, which is part of everyday life in the UAE, building a force for positive development," Al Gergawi commented.

The minister’s statement coincided with the announcement of the projects and programmes being undertaken by the co-ordinating committees overseeing the 2016 Year of Reading in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras Al Khaimah, Umm Al Quwain and Ajman as well as the committees of the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Culture and Knowledge Development.

Abdul Rahim Al Batih, Head of international Relations at Abu Dhabi Media, spoke about the programmes and activities that took place in the emirate of Abu Dhabi and highlighted the most important events in the Year of Reading including the Abu Dhabi Reads Campaign; Read a Story with a Star; the Innovative Reader competition; Al Ittihad Book of the Month; the Abu Dhabi Airport Reading Corner, and the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair.

The ‘Abu Dhabi Reads’ campaign was organised by the Abu Dhabi Education Council and consisted of a series of events and activities that promote reading skills among school students as well as inculcate the reading habit in adults. Read a Story with a Star was organised by the National Library at the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority in collaboration with the Department of Municipal Affairs and Transport in Abu Dhabi. The event was held in Al Bahia Park and was attended by 150 children. The Innovative Reader competition was organised by Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority targeting boys and girls between 7 and 12 years of age.

The Book of the Month with Al Ittihad newspaper was part of Abu Dhabi Media’s campaign for the Year of Reading, and represents a book that is chosen and distributed to Al Ittihad newspaper readers, while the Abu Dhabi Airport Reading Corner was launched by Abu Dhabi Airports, in collaboration with the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority.

The Corner is a library at the Abu Dhabi International Airport designed to provide books in several languages for travellers. The Abu Dhabi International Book Fair is part of the "Kitab" strategy that aims to transform Abu Dhabi into a global hub of publishing and is a major regional platform for publishers, distributors, agents, cultural organisations, educationalists and readers.

Addressing the most prominent events in the Year of Reading, Aisha Miran, Assistant Secretary-General, Strategy Management and Governance Sector, said that the largest library in the Arab world will be established through the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Library. The project will include several libraries, as well as initiatives that aim to protect the Arabic language and encourage reading among the next generation. Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) also launched its public transport library initiative, providing small libraries in metro stations that consist of books in Arabic and English, and allowing passengers to borrow books to read and return them for the use of others.

Speaking of the activities of the emirate of Fujairah in the Year of Reading, Saeed Al Afkham, Director-General of the Fujairah Culture and Media Authority, said that some 96 events had been announced, of which 66 had been implemented, with the balance to take place by the year’s end. Al Afkham spoke about a number of key initiatives taking place at the Fujairah International Exhibition for Education and Employment, which was held under the slogan ‘We Live to Read’ at the Fujairah Exhibition Centre with the participation of 80 entities and 150 universities and educational institutions from around the world.

The Fujairah Foundation of Natural Resources has launched an initiative titled ‘Tourist’s Reading’ at the beginning of April, which aims to introduce tourists in the United Arab Emirates to the many historical, national, geographical and economic features in the Emirates while aiming to familiarise them with the most prominent initiatives and activities taking place across the country.

In April 2016, Fujairah College held its ‘Students Media Forum’ under the banner ‘Reading is the Path to Creativity’, organised by the students of the Faculty of Mass Communication and Public Relations Department in Fujairah.

The Fujairah Education Council will launch its ‘Reading for All’ campaign in September, targeting remote areas, villages and inland cities in the emirate. The campaign includes literacy programmes and activities and a variety of contests and reading workshops conducted by selected reading ambassadors and staff from the Council.

Under the patronage of Sheikh Dr. Rashid bin Hamad Al Sharqi, Chairman of Fujairah Culture and Media Authority, the Fujairah Centre for Books and Documentation will be opening in October 2016. The Centre will include a public library open to researchers and readers, as well as a centre to document the heritage of the emirate's history and convert them into digital files for the benefit of the upcoming generations.

Abdullah Ali Bu-Aseeba, Director of the Umm Al Qaiwain Office of the Ministry of Information and Culture spoke about the emirate’s special events taking place within the Year of Reading, highlighting the main events such as ‘A Story on the Beach’ which saw tremendous participation from volunteers, citizens and community police.

A ‘mobile book carts’ initiative was also launched in the hospitals and medical centres of Umm Al Quwain, aiming to encourage patients and waiting area visitors to read. In collaboration with the Choueifat International Private School, the Women’s Association of Umm Al Qaiwain also launched a programme ‘The World of Fun Reading’ that ran for three months in the emirate.

Nahidah Al Awadhi, Project Management Director, Executive Council in the emirate of Ras Al Khaimah explained the main events taking place in Ras Al Khaimah implemented as part of the Year of Reading, including a book fair as well as additional events in collaboration with the Union of Writers.

The Public Works and Services Department had dedicated a special reading wing in the Products Exhibition, which was held in Sheikh Saqr Park, to target foreign workers in the emirate. The Department of Economic Development is working alongside Fujairah on an ‘A Book in Every Home’ initiative that will last over three years and include the distribution of packs of three non-fiction books which aim to enhance the public’s general knowledge. The department is also involved in the project ‘Relax and Read’, which aims to stimulate building a library and promotes free books to the owners of licenced caf?s in Ras Al Khaimah.

Commenting on upcoming events during this year, Al Awadhi said that the Department of Economic Development will launch a volunteer project to train university students to promote Arabic content creation across world encyclopaedias and Wikipedia by using the assistance of professional trainers from the Wikimedia Egypt International Foundation. Additionally, a collaboration between the Department of Development and Ras Al Khaimah Transport to create the ‘Reading Journey’ initiative will provide public transportation vehicles affiliated to Ras Al Khaimah Transport with books free of charge to bus riders.

The Sheikh Saqr Programme for Government Excellence also provides a draft summary of the best global articles around leadership and strategy.

The Ras Al Khaimah Award for Educational Excellence launched a programme that aims to treat students with dyslexia in public schools by providing a treatment plan through courses and workshops as well as intensive training for students.

The Human Resources Department launched the ‘Our Resources Read’ app which includes a collection of books on various topics such as human resources, leadership and creativity. The registered employees in Ras Al Khaimah can read, evaluate and summarize the book in the app as well as share it on social media platforms. The app also enables users to search and recommend books and participate in a reading council as well as in contests and competitions.

Wijdan Al Hajjaj, Project Manager - Executive Council of Ajman, spoke about the implementation of Ajman committee's activities that included library corners in caf?s; the 'My Family Reads' initiative; Service Centre Libraries; the 'Read to Live' and 'Get Around and Read' initiatives and the 'Knowledge Alley' and 'Reading Champions' schemes.
During the month of April, the Department of Economic Development, in collaboration with Juma Al Majid Group, provided library corners in Caribou and Gerard Caf?, while the 'My Family Reads' initiative was organised by Ajman Free Zone Authority, in collaboration with the Department of Culture and Community Development. The initiative targeted the children of Free Zone Authority employees, with story reading sessions for children. The Service Centre Libraries initiative has led to the General Directorate of Ajman Police setting up libraries across all its service centres, offering the public access to a diverse selection of books.
The Ajman Real Estate Regulatory Agency, in association with Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation, has offered three books per week on its website. The summaries of these books can be accessed and listened to while driving or through mobile phones, while the 'Get Around and Read' initiative was launched by the Ajman Executive Council, in collaboration with the Public Transport Corporation in Ajman. The initiative offers booklets for reading across the public transport network and in taxis. Users of public transport can read books in different languages in a matter of minutes.
Knowledge Alleys were set up in Ajman to encourage community members to practice reading and physical exercise together. As part of the initiatives, people can read useful information about the environment and sports while jogging, while the 'Reading Champions' scheme targets children with special needs to encourage them to overcome obstacles in their life and persevere to read and learn.
A range of initiatives are now planned in Ajman moving forwards, including the Municipality and Planning Department in Ajman providing four libraries in different areas of the emirate -- Marina, Al Alam Park, Al Hamidia Park and Al Rashidia Park. These libraries are shipping containers that can be transformed into spaces that are equipped with all the necessary tools to become a library.

The Executive Council of Ajman will also organise Ramadan events and contests to support reading, such as a photography contest under the title 'Read to Prosper', a short story contest titled 'Innovate with a Letter,' and a Q&A event that includes seminars on books that have been read.

A tourist attraction will be designed and established to encourage reading in the emirate. The design will be chosen through a competition for professional designers in which they will submit their best work to signify the importance of reading. The annual meeting around 'Year of Reading' for all Ajman employees will be launched in December and will include public events on the subject of reading and will also honour the writers and winners of different competitions. Also launching in November 2016, Ajman would have built a fun and playful winter reading park with a designated e-reader corner to motivate children to read.

Dr Fadila Sharif, Director of Health Education at the Ministry of Health (MoH) discussed the activities that the committee at the MoH will be undertaking for the Year of Reading, including the development of a smart library that includes the latest health publications and journals. The library will become the face of a modern cultural system that reflects the extent of educational advancement in the science and healthcare field. The electronic library will be made available to employees and staff of the MoH through creating an account on the web portal.
In addition to the ease of browsing the library through an app and with the aim of further motivating the employees to read, the ministry will put in place incentives and prizes for the most voracious readers.

In coordination with Kalimat, the first publishing house in the UAE dedicated solely to publishing Arabic books for children, the Ministry of Health will support the initiative by donating AED1 million. The funds will cover the expenses of 5,000 bags, containing five Arabic books each for 1-year-old children and a guide on the impact of reading, which will be distributed to mothers.

Sharifa Moussa, Advisor at the Office of the Minister of Education, discussed the activities by the ministry in line with the Year of Reading, which include dedicating an innovative reading corner in every school (Reading Club), the Darfa interactive reading platform, which will provide interactive digital books, novels, competitions and challenges and enable students to benefit from its rewards and the launch of the Best Reading School in the UAE initiative, the Best Reading Team in the UAE initiative and the My Family Reads initiative. Winners will be awarded during the yearly Reading Festival.

Additionally, the Reading Hour initiative has been put into action through assigning a reading class across schools, residential communities, cultural centres and malls where social figures and reading ambassadors will be participating. The launch of the Promising Writers initiative, in collaboration with Aqdar Writing Program, will qualify 50 writers of students and teachers, every year, to add young national writers to the literacy scene while ‘Kashkool’, a dedicated page on the ministry’s website, was launched. The page contains everything linked to the Year of Reading, such as instituting a reading culture and the yearly calendar of reading events. It will also highlight reading activities of schools and showcase global best practices in reading.

Upcoming projects by the Ministry include appointing reading ambassadors for each school with the participation of students, teachers and other selected members of the community; the Istikab initiative; Summer Reading Fun and the Reading Carnival and Yearly Reading Festival.

The Istiktab initiative aims to invite writers and enthusiasts to participate in enriching the literary scene and its content to make writing a common goal. Participation in storytelling and book writing strengthens nationalization and the values which the ministry is aiming to reinforce. It also spreads the value of forgiveness and encourages happier students. Summer Reading Fun is a rewarding summer campaign to encourage students to visit Darfa, the interactive reading platform, and read during their summer holidays.

Simultaneously with the academic year, the reading carnival will begin from September 2016 with the My School initiative. A number of activities will take place at schools, residential communities and malls to instill a reading culture within the students and the society. It will be followed by the Yearly Reading Festival in October 2016 through which a number of reading initiatives and activities will be put forward. Additionally, global best practices in reading will be presented and outstanding participants will be awarded for their efforts in further motivating the public.

For his part, Ahmed Al Haddabi, Head of Libraries at the Ministry of Culture and Knowledge Development, highlighted the main activities implemented so far during the Year of Reading, notably the UAE Reading Club. This club is one of the ministry’s key efforts in promoting culture and knowledge that can benefit everyone through year-long courses and workshops. The Ministry also announced the Forum of the Future, which will witness the participation of a number of writers, faculty members from private and public universities, directors of the Ministry of Education and heads of boards of education as well as members of the Emirates Publishers Association and local cultural figures. The discussion will revolve around the role of reading in the development of knowledge, the doors it opens across sectors and industries and the support it provides to strengthen language and culture. Additionally, the conversation will provide an overview on the future of reading in the digital age.

The UAE Digital Library aims to gather the finest collection of local and international Arabic books and provide digital versions online. The program also wishes to be the interactive local web portal that builds and broadens the knowledge infrastructure to encourage content creation and distribution in the UAE.

The library is also working to encourage the distribution of local digital content through an innovative online platform that will contribute to raising awareness about Arabic digital content, regionally and internationally. As a repository for literature, culture and science, the library aims to transition the concept of libraries from traditional to digital.

These initiatives are in line with the directives of UAE President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, to start the legislative procedure of drafting a UAE National Reading Law that aims to ensure the sustainability of all government efforts to consolidate reading in the UAE for all ages, as well as identify the key responsibilities of government agencies in the field.

His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, recently announced the National Reading Strategy 2026 that includes 30 directives in sectors such as education, healthcare, culture, community development, media and content.

Minister Al Gergawi wrapped up, saying, "The focus on reading and knowledge comes in line with the UAE’s efforts to build a knowledge society with a focus on innovation, ensuring a stable economy with sustainable growth and outcomes. A knowledgeable society is fundamental to achieving our long term goals and we want everyone to be aware of, and join in, our path of knowledge, innovation and success."

Al Gergawi added: "Reading is a fundamental pillar in building a civilisation and developing infrastructure and economic ecosystems. To build a smart city, we need to build an intelligent and knowledgeable generation. If we are building a sustainable future, we need to shape a generation capable of coping with the challenges of the present and imperatives of the future."