Youth as agents of change

Students of GEMS Modern Academy Dubai discuss freedom, reading and sustainability

A brush with freedom


By Sreesha Ghosh, 16, IB1

Prolific writer, eloquent debater, competent athlete


Slavery did not end with its abolition in the 19th century. Today, it still continues in almost every country in the world. At this very moment, there are 40 million people enslaved, forced into professions like prostitution, intense manual labour, agriculture and domestic work, of whom 10 million are children.

Modern slavery is an extremely prevalent issue in today’s world. In Dubai, young activists are joining forces to do something about it. On March 14, schools all over the country came together to celebrate “#MyFreedomDay”, a daylong student-driven awareness campaign that aimed to shed some light on modern slavery and human trafficking.

One of these schools, GEMS Modern Academy, decided to implement 40 different activities in honour of the 40 million people enslaved and exploited. These activities, taking place over the course of an entire week, seek to raise awareness about slavery and to support freedom through a variety of media like poetry, sport and art. In addition to these activities, there are several charity drives being planned as a direct contribution to the cause itself. One of the most striking exhibitions that took place at the school on March 8 was the art installation. Titled ‘The Monotone’, it was displayed underwater in the school’s swimming pool. Inspired by Yves Klein, the installation, which took only two people to complete, comprised four to six unmoving school students frozen in place depicting some action or the other in the middle of the pool as if to form a tableau, after which a set of pictures were taken at various angles to form a photo series depicting ideas such as confinement and the feeling of freedom.

The idea behind the art installation was of breaking free. Here, the pool served as a metaphor for our imprisonment; the walls of the pool are the chains that bind us, drag us back and prevent us from reaching beyond. Each and every one of us has been there before, each and every one of us has known what it feels like to feel restrained. The message behind the installation acknowledges imprisonment and encourages our release. It tells us to celebrate our freedom, something 40 million people around the world did not have the chance to taste.

The art installation shows a global issue in a unique light. It makes us not just aware but also empathetic to the plight of slaves and forces our conscience to pay attention to it. In showing us an artistic representation of the loss of our freedom, it teaches us to treasure it and to provide assistance to those who have not had the same privilege.


‘Booked’ in Dubai: A reading revolution

By Srishti Ghosh, 16, IB1

Spirited writer, passionate debater, enthusiastic globetrotter


The Year of Zayed is a culmination of the spirit of the UAE and the goals it has for the youth of the country. The first week of March 2018 marked the tenth anniversary of the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature in Dubai. With more than 200 sessions and 170 best-selling authors, the literature festival honoured the Year of Zayed by fulfilling its objective to invest in people’s knowledge, welfare and capabilities.

In Dubai, local art has been gaining momentum and the festival embraced the opportunity to showcase the local talent and potential. The celebration of local art and literature was weaved in meticulously with exploration of global trends and patterns in the recent festival. Dubai-based Judy Bishop curated the artwork for the festival’s art exhibition from the youth community in the UAE and displayed it in the Dubai Festival City Mall to portray the evolution of art and encourage young artists to step into the light.

It has been an ongoing local initiative to instill a spirt of reading within the youth as the world moves increasingly towards a technological future. March is celebrated as the Month of Reading every year in the UAE and the various poetry, writing and reading competitions during the literature festival encouraged students from around the GCC to explore literature and analyse art that reflect the local culture of the country. Almost 30,000 students around the GCC participated in the various workshops of the literature festival.

The third edition of the ‘Reading Box’ initiative was also recently announced by the Dubai Culture and Arts Authority. The Dubai Public Library has undertaken the responsibility of integrating a healthy habit of reading within the society to challenge issues and address global hurdles using innovative thinking and deep knowledge. Under the theme ‘A generation reads. A civilisation rises.’, the Reading Box initiative, which started on March 14 and will continue till March 27, promises a variety of seminars, workshops and discussions to promote a culture of reading.

The importance of the culture of reading has been outlined in the National Strategy 2026 and has been reflected by numerous local initiatives already. The future of the youth depends not just on reading but also on the depth and character that books add to the lives of children. The Emirates Airline Festival of Literature encouraged people to foster a spirit of reading for the future of the youth and it marked a wonderful beginning to the many upcoming initiatives in support of the values of the Year of Zayed.


Sustainability through design: Sculpting a greener tomorrow


By Adiba Ejaz, 16, IB1

Math enthusiast, music nerd and aspiring stand-up comedian


We are at a critical juncture in time. In pursuit of respecting and living in balance with our environment, the world is taking impressive strides towards achieving sustainable growth — in agriculture, in health care and in industry.

The UAE, however, is one step ahead. Here, the fast pace of sustainability is bleeding into every aspect of contemporary life. Art and architecture, remarkably, seem to be on the vanguard of this trend of ecological sensibility.

In recent years, the country has seen the emergence of a plethora of works of art and architecture aimed at conveying an aspirational message about the complex connections between human beings, technology, and the natural world. Each creation embodies the spirit of experimentation and dynamism that has long driven the advancement of the nation.

Perhaps, the most striking of these works is the cutting-edge Sustainability Pavilion, designed for the up-and-coming Expo 2020 Dubai. Roofed with solar panels, surrounded by avant-garde ‘energy trees’, and cooled by convection currents of natural air, the recreated natural environment provides visitors with the ultimate sensory experience of sustainable living. The significance of the Sustainability Pavilion’s distinct architectural presence extends far beyond mere embellishment: the innovative, self-sustaining structure is projected to generate 4GWHz of energy each year using photovoltaic cell and produce up to 22,000 litres of clean water a day by extracting atmospheric humidity and recycling wastewater.

The excitement does not end there. Dubai-based landscape architects ‘desert INK’ choose to bring their idea of sustainability to life in “The Block”, a park that represents the paragon of urban design. Situated in the buzzing Dubai Design District, the artistic space gave a renewed purpose to 830-tonne concrete blocks left unused after the construction of the Dubai Water Canal.

An array of bright, lively indoor gyms, children’s parks and food and beverage outlets invite visitors to explore and unwind. To top it all, almost all components of the display, from seating platforms to parkour equipment, have been reconstructed from discarded construction materials.

The focus on environmental sustainability in design represents a paradigm shift — no longer do artists seeking to understand the world around them feel the need to restrict their creative pieces to fine art and expression of the self. Rather, a sense of social and environmental responsibility is growing increasingly pervasive among creative fields. One step at a time, works of art and architecture are helping us re-establish our symbiotic connection with the planet.


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