Girl, 9, wins reading challenge
Mariam from Morocco breaks down as she receives prize
Flanked by four finalists twice her age, she stood on the Dubai Opera stage yesterday, wearing a traditional beige bisht with maroon piping and her golden hair pulled back with a sparkling tiara.
Moments later, her name was called out — Mariam Lehsen Amjoun, 9, the winner of the Dh500,000 Arab Reading Challenge prize, beating millions of children from 44 nations in the region and beyond.
A stunned Mariam was then prodded to walk towards His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai. As Shaikh Mohammad placed his hands on her shoulder, Mariam began crying and he lowered his head to wipe the child’s tears with his white ghotra.
Asked what she would share if she had a million followers on social media... Mariam said: “I would write to people about the joy of reading, and how reading will save nations drowning in illiteracy and poverty. Reading is a hospital to the mind.
“I expected to win because I prepared very well. Since 2017, I have been reading books, summarising them and trying to understand their content. I knew I was going to be the champion,” said Mariam from Morocco, a nation with a female literacy rate of 74 per cent.
Reading books helps us learn and heal, says the nine-year-old girl, who won this year’s Arab Reading Challenge prize of Dh500,000.
A self-assured Mariam Lehsen Amjoun from Morocco beat out 10.5 million participants from 44 countries across the Arab region and the world to clinch the coveted award.
“I expected to win because I was prepared for this challenge very well. Since 2017, I have been reading books, summarising them and trying to understand their content. I knew I was going to be the champion,” said Amjoun after she was awarded the prize.
The youngest of the five finalists was crowned during an award ceremony held at the Dubai Opera House by His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.
Shaikh Mohammad later tweeted that “we bet on a generation of readers …. We bet on 10 million students — each of whom read 50 books in one year … we bet on their minds, knowledge and science that will change our societies for the better. They make us optimistic….”
He also congratulated Ekhlas School, Kuwait and Aisha Al Tuwairqi from Saudi Arabia on being honoured as the most outstanding school supervisor.
Kuwait’s Ekhlas School beat 52,000 schools and bagged the Dh1 million prize for having the best reading initiatives in the region and Al Tuwairqi from Saudi Arabia took home Dh300,000 for being the “best supervisor” in encouraging students throughout the challenge.
The third edition of the largest-ever Arab literacy initiative expanded to include Arab students living in non-Arab communities across the world and awarded Tasneem Aidi, a Syrian student living in France with Dh100,000 under a new award category announced this year.
Shaikh Mohammad also honoured the top finalists from Arab and non-Arab countries who had participated in the 2018 challenge, which is giving away prizes totalling Dh11 million.
Amjoun had outperformed thousands of students who participated in the competition in Morocco, and was chosen from among five finalists and 16 semifinalists who were graded based on ability of expression in Arabic, critical thinking and discussion based on logic and facts.
Intelligence on display
When a judge asked Amjoun before winning the prize what her message would be for the Arab youth if she had a million followers on social media, she said: “I will inspire them with my experience at the Arab Reading Challenge. I want to tell them about the beauty of reading and its power to pass knowledge to people.”
“Reading can help fight poverty and ignorance. It is like a hospital to the mind,” she added, as the audience cheered.
The 2018 edition has witnessed a record-breaking number of participants, which had gone up by 25 per cent from 7.4 million last year to 10.5 million participants in 2018. Over 250 million books were collectively read by participants during this competition, which encourages Arab students to read over 50 books in an academic year.
Abdullah Al Nuaimi, project manager at Mohammad Bin Rashid Global Initiatives, organisers of the competition, said the Dh11 million in prizes were distributed throughout the competition’s different stages and to top winners. “The winning school was awarded for carrying out the best reading initiatives for students. They were also chosen for the number of students who participated in the reading activities from that school and for the variety of books they made available in their libraries,” he said.
He added that Ekhlas School from Kuwait was “phenomenal” this year. “The challenge is not only about the prize, it’s about how it inspires students and schools from across the globe to follow the same path.”
Last year, Afaf Raed from Palestine won the title of champion. Launched in 2015, the Arab Reading Challenge aims to establish a culture of reading among young Arabs.
Shaikh Mohammad wiping the tears of Mariam as she receives the prize. WAM