By Hessa Jame (Grade 8) and Rish Aiyer (Grade 11) from Nibras International School
Many may not realize it when they attend a festival or celebration of any sort, but there is cultural machinery at work. Culture, in fact, can be a vehicle by which a cause is elevated—and this is surely the case at National Day Celebrations across the United Arab Emirates. Nibras International School (NIS) in Dubai’s Investment Park put its own unique spin on operationalized culture, with Emirati youth leading the way.
Preserving Emirati heritage has remained a focal point of the UAE since its inception. Decades later at NIS, those same cultural elements, notably faith, pluralism, the notion of an educational community, and youth development, are the “wheels” on which the same cause would be raised. NIS is a truly international school with students hailing from all over the globe, yet from the planning stages of its National Day celebration, it was decided that Emirati students would design, lead, and even critique the event which took place on Wednesday, November 29th, 2017. Needless to say, these young leaders did not disappoint.
“For such a diverse student body, it was not a simple task for our small group of Emirati students to coordinate the schedule of activities. It was almost like a microcosm of the actual UAE—that was a cool thing to notice.”
—Ahmed, Grade 11 (UAE)
The presence of religious references was significant throughout a multitude of performances, perhaps a result of the strong Islamic character of the United Arab Emirates. As exemplified at NIS, Islamic faith served not only to enhance the traditional character of a National Day celebration; it also succeeded in invoking patriotic fervor amongst Emirati individuals—and all who were present, in fact. Religion has played a significant part in the history of the Emirates and is perhaps the single common thread that not only binds every Emirati together but also forms a large, if not the largest part, of Emirati cultural identity. Therefore, given the significant role religion plays in the UAE, especially considering we live in a time where many nations are turning to secularism and religion as a defining aspect of cultural identity is in the decline, the presence of religion in cultural performances is not only a natural result considering the Islamic nature of Emirati culture, but it also a significant tool in the national quest to preserve and enhance patriotism and identity amongst Emiratis.
Furthermore, the educational community—though often overlooked—plays as large a part in the “cause” as any of the other “wheels.” Perhaps best characterized as the “grease” that keeps everything in working order, the vision for National Day would not have translated into a reality without significant support from teachers, administrators, senior management, parents and support staff.
“The notion of an educational community and its interrelated parts, needs, and functions among educators, parents, and the student body is truly important to the culture of NIS, and it is evident on days like this…Basically, everyone played a role in shaping this event just as everyone plays a role in shaping this nation.”
—Local Cultural Representative (UAE)
Pluralism and Empowerment
Pluralism and youth empowerment are also significant cultural elements that contribute to the success of the Emirati vision to preserve their identity and heritage. Pluralism is something unique to the Emirates. While pluralism in its truest form means a system of government with multiple political factions, pluralism in the Emirates takes on a different meaning. Emirati pluralism comes from the diversity of its inhabitants, a force stronger and more capable of effecting meaningful change than any political party. Going back to the very founding of the UAE, this land has always been diverse, home to people from near and far. In keeping in with that tradition, the National Day celebration at NIS included participants from many nations, who learned and performed beautiful dances, songs, and yes…even a fashion show. In fact, the pluralistic appeal of this celebration can also be characterized by the witty Western commentary, announcements, and adlibs throughout the event by school leadership—adding a truly unique touch to the whole event.
Today, diversity in the UAE has resulted in a population in which the expat community is a vast majority, representing individuals from all walks of life. The international, multi-cultural, multi-religious character of the UAE—which in many nations would be considered an impediment to the preservation of cultural heritage—enhances Emirati culture in the Emirates, with the government actively focusing on the preservation of their identity at a time when many countries neglect theirs, believing in the immortality of patriotism and cultural heritage. Youth empowerment, though not a cultural element in the most literal sense, is another “wheel” that elevates the cause to preserve Emirati identity. The UAE has rightfully recognized that our future lies in our youth. One could see an empowered youth at NIS National Day, with the youth being the driving force behind the entire event. Pluralism in the Emirati sense, combined with an empowered youth, forms a not only a unique cultural element but also a powerful force capable of scaling the tallest of walls, thus furthering the cause to preserve Emirati identity and enhance patriotism amongst its citizenry.
”Youth empowerment is a significant quality of the Emirates because of the youth…well, that would be US! …We hold the future of the country…Lots of opportunities are opening for young Emiratis—even to be astronauts! This is why the middle and high school Emirati students were chosen to plan National Day. This was an opportunity for the students to experience taking responsibility for planning an important event. The students were not the only ones that helped, however. Parents and teachers helped with getting food, decorations, tents, and the clothing. It was like a village of bustling helpers of all ages from all places. Next year will be even better!”
—Parent in Attendance (Ethiopia)