Emirati writer Hanadi Al Fahim pens children's book
The author and advocate for the environment speaks to City Times about the inspiration behind The Little Ghaf Tree
Hanadi Al Fahim has vividly brought to life the flora and fauna of the UAE with The Little Ghaf Tree, the first children's book on the country's National Tree. Through her story (beautifully illustrated by Shahul Hameed), she aims to inspire youngsters to educate themselves about the tree, its life-giving benefits and old Emirati traditions surrounding it. We caught up with the author to find out more.
What inspired you to write The Little Ghaf Tree?
My admiration for the Ghaf tree started in 2006 when the nationwide campaign, led by Emirates Nature-WWF in partnership with Al Fahim Group, was launched to save it from becoming endangered and paved the way towards declaring the Ghaf the National Tree of the UAE. The campaign shed light on the significance of this majestic tree and its multiple benefits. In the years that followed the campaign, I was motivated to raise more awareness about this wondrous tree and decided to name a co-owned art gallery, The Ghaf Art Gallery, to further emphasise its importance amongst our community through fine arts.
Only a few years ago when I became an aunt to my beautiful nephews and nieces, did I realise the importance of educating our children about the Ghaf tree and all it stands for. They inspired me to write about it and leave a lasting legacy to our children on the environment that surrounds us and how it has shaped who we are today. It was my way of contributing to future generations, starting with my nieces and nephews.
What message do you hope to send out to today's children with your book?
My goal was to write a book about the tree in a way children would enjoy whilst learning all about it at the same time. My hope is for children to embrace the values of the Ghaf tree - expressed in the storyline - which emphasize giving, resilience, kindness and coexistence, as they carry them through into their adulthood.
As an advocate for the environment what do you think is the best way to spread awareness about these issues?
The best place to begin raising awareness is to start with children and education. One way to reach out to them is through different genres of books, as they can plant a seed in children's minds. Looking at adults, it is important to comprehend the consequences our actions may or may not have on us and the environment; alongside, educating us on alternatives and offering solutions to help us go green.
The reading habit is not as prevalent in children as it once was. How does one get them interested in reading again?
Introducing bedtime stories at a very young age is important. A few weeks ago, I read an interesting quote that said it all, "Reading to children even before they can understand the words, teaches them to associate books with love and affection."
Children like to have quality time with their parents, and reading creates a connection between a parent and their child. This attracts the child to associate reading with happy and positive memories, with the warmth of their parents hugging them as they cuddle next to them while holding the book between their hands makes it more real. It encourages them to start asking questions and enables a thirst for knowledge on random aspects of life. It helps their imagination grow as they add to the story their own thoughts and feelings. Even making up different voices for the characters, or knowing when to turn the page, makes it fun and exciting for them.
The UAE has always been a supportive environment for women's accomplishments. What are your thoughts on this?
This is absolutely true. I am very proud to be a UAE national because our Founding Fathers have unreservedly encouraged women to achieve their full potential in every field of endeavor with no gender discrimination in terms of dignity or opportunity. Hence, while Emirati women are given equal rights and duties, they outshine their male counterparts in many public and private sectors across the country. This is rare even in the most developed countries. As an Emirati, I feel empowered just as men are, thanks to the bias-free and barrier-free socio-cultural atmosphere and all-inclusive national agenda for sustainable economic development, led by our wise leaders. Mother of the Nation, Chairwoman of the General Women's Union (GWU), President of the Supreme Council for Motherhood and Childhood, and Supreme Chairwoman of the Family Development Foundation (FDF), Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak's multi-faceted dynamic support on women's empowerment has earned UAE global recognition.
In my own personal experience, I have witnessed and lived this fairness and equality from top to bottom within our community. Almost every day we hear great stories of Emirati women being honoured for their distinguished achievements in various fields, both, by the local authorities and/or regional and international agencies. This is why, here, you will find no sector without one or more strong and pioneering women, be it in education, public service, professional excellence, entrepreneurship, business, science, sports, art, politics, etc.
Growing up who were the authors you were inspired by and do you have any favourite books?
My father was my source of inspiration with his bestselling book - From Rags to Riches. It taught me so much about the UAE and our history in an enjoyable and story-telling manner that encouraged me to continue reading and exploring my own heritage.
There are many great books out there but my all-time favourite is The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho. It got me into believing in destiny and how your life is full of signs to lead your way, to never give up, believe in your dreams and listen to your heart. Another book I've read several times is Oprah Winfrey's What I Know for Sure, it is my happy go-to book - one that reminds me to have an appreciation for the smaller things in life, as those are the things that will bring us the most joy.
Your book is the story of the National Tree of the UAE. Do you have any memories of the flora and fauna of the UAE from your childhood?
The most vivid memories I have as a child are the ones when we used to go to the desert with my father and the family. Besides playing in the sand dunes, picnicking and experiencing the thrills of dune-bashing, these frequent trips to the desert were grounding.
We used to go to Al Ain all the time as our extended family lived there, and I remember that our majlis was outdoors overlooking a horizon of sand and sky that never ends. just like the sea.
As children, we all enjoyed the vast space to play around in, burying our feet in the warm sand, or sliding on the dunes and walking around barefoot feeling the soft sand ripples against your feet.
I recall wondering how come there were trees and bushes scattered around the desert, yet there was no rain for them to stay alive and grow. We used to see traces in the sand of different animals and insects, and pondering where they sheltered themselves because we never actually saw them.
Do you have plans to work on a second book?
A few years ago, I started a nonfiction book, but The Little Ghaf Tree took over and I am now considering a sequel to it! So, yes, there could be a second book. Whether I will pick up from where I left off with my nonfiction book, or carry on with an adventurous desert-filled sequel is unknown; I have yet to see where my heart and inspiration takes me.