07 NOV 2019

Morocco crowned winner of Arab Reading Challenge

Anthems were sung, flags waved and crowds cheered as Dubai welcomed a new champion of the Arab Reading Challenge on Tuesday.

Moroccan Maryam Amjoun, 9, was announced the winner of the competition, which is largest Arab knowledge initiative in the world and is in its third year.

Over 10.5 million pupils from more than 52,000 schools in 44 countries took part. Maryam was presented her award – which includes a cash prize of Dh500,000 – by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, at Dubai Opera.

Overwhelmed by the celebrations, Maryam burst into tears and Sheikh Mohammed used his ghutra to wipe them away.

"I say to the winners that they are the leaders of the future. With education and knowledge, a person can reach any goal. And we will see you next year [for next year's challenge]," Sheikh Mohammed told attendees at the ceremony.

The competition challenges participants, between the ages of 8 and 18, to read a minimum of 50 Arabic books over the course of one academic year. They are then tested on their understanding of the texts during the contest.

The literature may be a lot to retain but Maryam says she was unfazed.

"I was expecting to be the winner of the Arab reading challenge. The questions were easy and I was fully prepared. I was told that in every challenge there are hardships but I never gave up despite all the difficulties," said Maryam.

"I like to read books that treat problems, such as social books, in addition to reading history and scientific books, and books about morals and ethics.

“When I grow up, I would like to become an architect just like the Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid,” she said.

Maryam’s father, Amjoun Lahsan, said that, for the past year, the family has sat together to read every day. Together, they would summarise, analyse and critique the literature they read.

“Maryam has big dreams and is very ambitious. Every time I told her you have a 99.9 per cent chance of winning, she would get angry and say no it is a 100 per cent chance,” said Mr Lahsan.

“It is a great feeling when a figure like Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid bends down to wipe her tears and kiss her forehead. That’s a message to Maryam — it is a motive to continue reading and do what she is doing,” he said.

“She already knows her career path: she wants to be an architect. In the past year, she read many books and was introduced to Zaha Hadid, the famous architect."