Tolerance, wrote Voltaire, is the consequence of humanity. Around the world, communities built on values of compassion, understanding and solidarity tend to be stronger and more united. Here in the UAE, as we inch towards another National Day on December 2, it is therefore fitting that the country has honoured the best examples of that humanity by recognising members of the community who personify the pillars upon which this nation was founded 48 years ago.
This recognition is embodied in the UAE Pioneers awards, first launched in 2014 by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, and held every year since. In the first year of the initiative, marking the UAE's 43rd National Day, 43 Emiratis were named pioneers for their contributions to society. They hailed from a number of fields, from education and academia to business, sport and innovation.
In the years since, the tremendous work of ordinary citizens, hailing from a wide range of backgrounds and boasting numerous skills, has not gone unnoticed. In the past five years, hundreds of individuals and organisations have been bestowed with the honour of being named UAE pioneers. Among them are the first Emirati nuclear engineer, the first Emirati female paralympian, the first blind Emirati to obtain a doctorate and the first soldier to join the Armed Forces.
Last year, organisers of the awards decided to name institutions such as Louvre Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and the Burj Khalifa rather than individuals. This year, a select group of 14 individuals and organisations were chosen from 3,000 nominations, all fitting the theme of the Year of Tolerance. Among them were Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, the Minister of Tolerance; the Voice of Tolerance choir, made up of 400 schoolchildren; the Reverend Canon Andrew Thompson, the vicar of St Andrew’s Anglican church in Abu Dhabi and the author of a book on tolerance; and Saji Cheriyan, an Indian businessman who funded the Dh1.3 million Maryam Mosque in Fujairah so his workers could pray. The breadth of winners highlight the extent to which this country values hard work and devotion for the benefit of others. And the inclusiveness of the pioneers is evident not just in the many fields they represent but also their backgrounds.
Their combined accomplishments go a long way in furthering the spirit of solidarity, tolerance and harmony in the UAE. They are just some of the examples of the community spirit the awards seek to nurture and recognise. There are, of course, many more deserving examples across the country, and the pioneers award is just one of a number of initiatives recognising and rewarding those qualities in both citizens and long-term residents. They include the Golden Card, awarded to long-term residents who have made meaningful contributions to the growth of the nation to encourage them to see their futures in the Emirates.
Such schemes serve as great examples of what humanity is capable of and will be role models for generations to come. The UAE pioneers are exactly the kind of residents Sheikh Mohammed referred to when he said: “We do not want to honour pioneers simply within the confines of a celebration or a yearbook. We want our youth to adopt them as positive role models who will continue to inspire future generations.”