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Using the Power of Film to Raise Awareness of Male Dropouts in the United Arab Emirates

Al Qasimi Foundation
June 25, 2013

Research studies typically conclude with written reports or journal articles outlining findings and drawing conclusions based on neatly organized data. Although this can be an effective way to share results, it does not always capture the human stories behind the numbers. This proved true for the Al Qasimi Foundation’s recent study on male Emirati school dropouts and led to the decision to create a short documentary that will personalize the issue and highlight the challenges many dropouts face.

“Many of the dropouts surveyed and interviewed as part of the study struggled with socioeconomic strains, family pressures, and being marginalized at school,” says Dr. Natasha Ridge, the study’s principal investigator and Executive Director of the Al Qasimi Foundation. “These challenges played a significant role in their decisions to leave school but are not often discussed in the media or policy making circles.”

The documentary will mark the completion of a three-year study exploring why up to 25% of male Emirati students drop out of secondary school each year. Contrary to popular perception, Dr. Ridge says few of the young Emirati men who participated in the study left school due to attractive employment opportunities with the police or armed forces. Rather, they were pushed out due to negative experiences in school and numerous social and economic factors that were often beyond their control. The documentary project will follow the story of one young man, Ibrahim, who dropped out of school at the age of 15 and is currently incarcerated in a local prison.

According to Captain Adnan Al Hammadi, Director of Rehabilitation and Training for one of the country’s prisons, most Emirati inmates are secondary school dropouts. “They have taken the wrong paths partially because they were not educated and did not have the reasoning and decision-making powers necessary to aid them in difficult situations. It is not always their fault (that they end up here) since they didn’t have the chance to complete their education.”

Among the potential candidates to profile in the documentary, Ibrahim’s narrative stood apart. Not only did it capture many of the research findings, but Ibrahim volunteered to tell his story because he wanted other boys and young men to learn from his experience. His story sheds light on the home, school, and social situations which impact boys’ decisions to leave school before graduation and is similar to the experiences of other dropouts in the United Arab Emirates. It also draws attention to the challenges facing young men who do not complete their education. Although Ibrahim’s story is troubling, it also offers hope and inspiration for the future.

“A combination of adverse circumstances at a young age led Ibrahim to where he is today,” says Soha Shami, Research Associate at the Foundation and co-investigator in the study. “We cannot judge him or any other inmate until we hear their full stories. Despite Ibrahim’s life experiences and time in prison, he remains positive and hopeful for a future where he can continue his education and contribute to society.”

The documentary which features Ibrahim’s story is set to premier to an international audience at the beginning of 2014. Emirates Foundation for Youth Development, which sponsored the overall study, is also providing funds for the film.

“Having a dedicated budget allows us time to really consider how we can target an international audience and best tell this story,” says Suqrat Bin Bisher, the Foundation’s Event Coordinator and director of the documentary. “After being directly involved in the research interviews, I am excited to document the entire study through a personal story and 10 minutes of film.”

Roxy George, an independent filmmaker involved with the project, is also eager to help share the experiences of young men like Ibrahim who leave school early. “Personally, I am very excited to be working with the Foundation to expose some of the real elements affecting Emirati youth. I’m excited to see how some of the stories that couldn’t be expressed otherwise are able to be conveyed through media and film.”