Girl, 9, wins read­ing chal­lenge

Mariam from Morocco breaks down as she re­ceives prize

Gulf News - - Front Page - BY MARY ACHKHANIAN Staff Re­porter

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.

Greater reach

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

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