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Started in 2007, the Dar al Atta’a Let’s Read Programme has gone from strength to strength in rendering a remarkable service

Today a reader, tomorrow a leader it’s said for good reason. One of the most significant benefits of reading is that it helps grow mentally, emotionally and psychologically. Studies show that reading for pleasure makes a big difference not just in children’s educational performance but also in life as a whole.

Jane Jaffer, MBE, recognised this and founded the Dar al Atta’a Let’s Read Programme in 2007 to promote the love of reading among children. The programme conducts a children’s writing competition every year with the objective of improving reading and writing skills, encouraging research and creativity and building confidence in their own abilities.

Involved in Oman’s education sector for the last 39 years ago, Jane has also authored children’s books and believes it’s important for children to have the opportun-ity to read stories set in Oman.

Thousands of children have entered the annual writing competition over the past 13 years. There were 55 entries in all for the writing competition in its first edition. In 2019, there were 620 entries from children aged eight to 18 from 29 schools across the country who wrote essays on ‘My Favourite Place in Oman’.

The budding essayists wrote about the many places to visit and the many things to do in Oman. They described picture-perfect coastlines and green mountains, watching dolphins and turtle nesting, hiking in wadis and sleeping under star-filled skies in the desert, seeing performances at Royal Opera House Muscat and visiting the Grand Mosque, or ancient forts and sink holes in vivid detail.

From the entries, 76 were compiled in a book titled  MyFavourite Place in Oman released last month to showcase the reading and writing programme giving an incentive to the participants of seeing their essays in print. “Giving children awards, prizes and the opportunity to see their work published has boosted the students’ confidence in their abilities,” Jane said.

The essays were judged by a panel of 16, all of who have a literary background, including RadhiekaPeerisYapa. She described each entry as a unique voice written in beautiful prose. “While each and every piece could easily have been included in this compilation, the stories here are the ones that showed the best presentation and help highlight the creative talent present in Oman today.”

Describing the judging criteria, Radhieka said, “Some of the aspects the judges needed to pay heed to while marking were – is it a personal experience?, how well was it described in terms of what the writer possibly did at the location?, have they given directions of how to get to the location?, is it told in their own voice?, and the standard of grammar and spelling.”

A draft of the book was sent to the Ministry of Tourism for fact check and approval of content, while celebrated artists and photographers Anna Dudchenko, Rajesh Venkiteswaran, Karen MacFarlane and Yas al Delamie provided their works for inclusion in it. Priced RO6, My Favourite Place in Oman is available at the Let’s Read Charity Bookshop on the third floor of Oman Avenues Mall. All proceeds from sales of the book will go towards Maktabati, Oman’s first mobile libraries, which give children fun reading experiences, Jane said.

One of the 76 essays compiled in the book was written by Nasser Mohammed al Balushi. A student of Al Ruwad International School, Nasser’s essay was titled Sur. “Sur is my hometown, my origin, the place that I belong to and of course I cherish and love this place; that’s why I felt compelled to write about it,” he said.

‘Amazed’ and ‘honoured’ that his essay was chosen for the book, the 11 year old has a way with words. Asked what he’d like to be when he grows up, Nasser said, ‘I’m aiming for whatever the best possible I can be and I don’t want to limit myself, so I don’t have a straight answer now. But there are lots of good professions like engineer, scientist, doctor… there are many options to choose from. I will strive to get the best option that I can get.”

Asked how the experience of participating in the competition and seeing his essay published help Nasser, his mother Sabrina al Barwani said, “It has made him more confident in his writing skills and we’re really proud of him.”

Sabrina hopes Nasser will continue to improve his writing skills and participate in future competitions. “I would like to thank the Let’s Read Programme for providing this opportunity. We hope to see him as a published author in the future.”