Dubai pupil wins Unesco gold prize for short story on child marriage

Zarya Usman’s work will be published in a special edition hardcover book

A Dubai pupil whose short story shed light on child marriage has been awarded a gold laureate prize from Unesco and UK charity the Idries Shah Foundation.

Zarya Usman, 19, was one of 20 winners from around the world in the Unesco and Idries Shah Foundation World Tales — Short Story Competition.

The gold, silver and bronze laureates were announced in an award ceremony in Paris on July 8.

The Pakistani national, who is studying for her A Levels at Pristine Private School in Dubai, said she was honoured to win a prestigious prize and that her work was recognised at a global level.

Her story, titled "Colours of Misfortune", is centred on a young orphan who faces a bleak future under her uncle’s guardianship, as he supports the idea of child marriage.

“Back in the lockdown of 2020, I read the book A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini and as a woman and a feminist there were several times that story broke my heart and I had to put it down because it was such a heavy read,” Ms Usman said.

“Knowing that the story was not merely fiction and is based on issues real women currently face made me yearn for an opportunity to somehow contribute to alleviating their struggles.

“So, when I saw the prompt of the competition, that's immediately where my mind went. Child brides, just like every other young girl and boy, have so many dreams and ambitions.

“While I can't even begin to imagine what it must be like to be in the position of one of those girls, what truly inspired me to write this story was their strength.”

The theme of the competition was "Once a time in my future", and pupils were required to submit 250 to 500 words.

Two other pupils from Pristine Private School — Mariel Julienne and Mishkat Zaheer — also won honourable mentions for exceptional quality.

“I knew that it was a very prestigious platform that I was contributing my story to and the theme helped me project my story at a global level,” Ms Usman said.

“I was very happy when I first heard that I was among the finalists and then at the award ceremony, when the prizes were announced after our story readings, I felt exceptionally honoured that my writing had moved the jury to select me as the gold laureate.”

The Idries Shah Foundation will publish the work of the laureates in a special edition hardcover book, which will be distributed to the schools and cities of the winners.

Ms Usman hopes that the prize will help keep her motivated to continue refining her skills in storytelling.

“The gold medal will always remind me of the mark I made through this competition,” she said.

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Updated: July 19th 2021, 3:15 AM