(MENAFN- Khaleej Times) Sixteen finalists are competing for the grand prize of the second Arab Reading Challenge (ARC), which will crown the winner on Wednesday.
The semifinal two-day round of qualifiers before the closing ceremony started on Monday, where 16 students from 14 Arab countries went through oral and written tests to compete for the $150,000 award. Only three will reach the finals, among which the winner will be crowned at Dubai Opera during the final ceremony on Wednesday.
The jury will shortlist three based on their comprehension of text and ability to communicate accurately in Arabic; critical and creative thinking; and general knowledge.
Among the finalists was 11-year-old Abdullah Ammar from Egypt who, despite his visual impairment, was able to finish 50 books on religion, philosophy and science and memorise Quran in three months.
"Reading is food for the mind and soul. I enjoy reading because it always teaches me something new and gives me information I can apply in my daily life," said Ammar, who wants to be a literary or religious studies scholar.
Ever since he was 9, Ammar has allocated two hours every morning to read and analyse books. Besides his parents or teachers who read for him, Ammar also relies on Braille books. "He doesn't go out in the morning because he cannot see the light, so we read for him instead. If we aren't around, he relies on books written in Braille," his father Ammar Al Sayed said.
It is the second time for 9-year-old Aisha Badee from Bahrain, participating in the challenge; she qualified for the finals this year for reading and critiquing 50 books on social science, religion, literature and adventure.
"I diversified the books I read and dedicated longer hours to reading," said Badee, who now allocates three hours to reading every day.
"Reading expands my horizons and helps me excel in my studies and develop other general skills," said Badee, a fourth grader, who aims to become a pediatrician and author.
"I already write stories about different themes and will aim to continue doing so."
Arab students living in non-Arab countries were also given the opportunity to join the challenge.
This year, students from 11 countries are competing, compared to five non-Arab countries in 2016. Participants will only have to read 25 books instead of 50. In each country, qualification rounds are held and top contenders from each country will be rewarded. Anfal Mustafa from Palestine, who's been living in Canada and aspires to become a lawyer, said: "Qualifying for the finals is itself an achievement. The challenge is a motivation for us."
Began in September 2015, ARC became the largest pan-Arab project that aims for a million students in the region to read 50 million books a year.
Sherouk Zakaria "Born and raised in UAE, Sherouk Zakaria is a Senior Correspondent at Khaleej Times. Joined since May 2016, she covers Dubai Municipality, Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA), special events and humanitarian issues. Her choice of journalism as a career stems from her passion of telling people's stories and writing to inspire or make a difference. In her free time, she's an occasional theater and film actress. Sherouk received her BA in Mass Communications from the American University in Sharjah in 2013. Before joining Khaleej Times, she was a senior lifestyle/entertainment editor for a magazine in Dubai."
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