UAE: 4-day weekend at some schools, but Diwali festivities cancelled amid Gaza crisis

‘We feel guilty to be happy’: Educators encourage students, parents to donate to relief campaign as the Israel-Hamas war rages on


Nandini Sircar


Sahim Salim

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Palestinian children wounded in Israeli strikes cry outside a hospital in Rafah refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip, Thursday, Oct. 12, 2023. Photo: AP
Palestinian children wounded in Israeli strikes cry outside a hospital in Rafah refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip, Thursday, Oct. 12, 2023. Photo: AP

Published: Tue 7 Nov 2023, 12:35 PM

Last updated: Wed 15 Nov 2023, 3:52 PM

Some schools in the UAE will offer an extended weekend to students to celebrate the Indian festival of Diwali. However, on-campus celebrations will be muted as the Israel-Hamas war rages on.

In a circular sent to parents, Gems Our Own Indian School said it would remain closed on Friday, November 10, and Monday, November 13, on the occasion. This would translate into a four-day weekend for the students.

Lalitha Suresh, principal of the school, said the four-day break will give families time to celebrate Diwali over an extended weekend.

"Diwali celebrations in school will be low-key this year, with activities limited to class assemblies that are educational in nature. All students have been appraised to be conscious of the regional situation, and they have been encouraged to celebrate Diwali by donating towards the Emirates Red Crescent campaign," she told Khaleej Times.

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She was referring to the 'Tarahum - for Gaza' relief campaign that the UAE launched to help Palestinians affected by the war in Gaza. Thousands of UAE residents have contributed to the drive, helping the ERC send tonnes of life-saving relief materials to Gaza.

An Abu Dhabi-based school has cancelled all major celebrations this year.

Abhilasha Singh, principal, Shining Star International, said: "The scale of the catastrophic devastation in Gaza is beyond imagination. The entire world is watching the humanitarian crisis that is unfolding before us. Therefore, we've cut back on all celebrations. This morning, during the morning assembly, I was speaking to my students regarding this (Gaza crisis). I was telling them whenever they get this feeling of 'not having enough', they must pause and think of the children in Palestine (the people who) lost their lives and the families who are grieving the loss of their loved ones. I told them they should remind themselves of how lucky they are to be in a peaceful state. The children were listening with rapt attention."

The school has stopped all forms of music and dance activities. "Somehow, at this point, we really feel guilty to be happy. Our hearts are heavy. We are only sticking to the necessary parts of the curriculum. We are collectively praying for the peace of the entire region. The humanitarian crisis should end soon."

One school in Sharjah has given the day off for Diwali but called off all festivities. Pramod Mahajan, Principal, Sharjah Indian School, said: "We are not distributing any sweets this year. In fact, the students' council has been very mindful of (the situation)."

Schools across the UAE have set up collection boxes for parents and students to donate food, blankets, tents, soap bars, toothpaste, women's hygiene essentials, diapers and wet wipes, among others, to the civilians in Gaza.

Celebrations suspended

Gems Education had earlier sent a communique to schools, announcing the suspension of celebratory events "until further notice" as they would be "inappropriate" given the conflict currently raging in the region. According to the note, the affected events included celebrations of a religious nature such as Diwali, as well as Christmas events and parties, including winter wonderlands and festive fêtes, among others.

Meanwhile, students who initially felt a tinge of disappointment said that after they understood the purpose behind the reason, and they fully endorsed the school’s decision.

Sri Hari, a Grade 7 student of Shining Star International said, “When I first heard that we won’t be celebrating events like Diwali, I felt a little sad. But when I realised the reason, I didn’t feel bad anymore. I support the school’s decision. We are helping the victims by donating money that we would have spent on these celebrations.”

Reiterating similar views, Faisal, a Grade 9 student, said, “In response to our situation in Gaza our school organization has taken a positive initiative. We’ve decided not to celebrate special days this year like Children’s Day, Diwali, and other festivals in solidarity with the victims.”

Schools are actively donating daily-use items to help the civilians in Gaza. “We believe small actions can make a significant difference,” he added.

“We are all aware of the situation in Gaza. I feel that our decision to not celebrate the special occasions is a positive step that shows our support for the innocent people. I feel we can’t be celebrating at a time when many are losing their lives,” said Grade 9 student, Salem.


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