Emiratis from across the UAE have urged future generations to learn lessons from the nation's "miracle" transformation from barren desert to land of prosperity.
As the country comes together to mark the UAE's 47th National Day, police officers, entrepreneurs, government officers and university graduates have spoken of their pride in the country's rapid growth and called for others to help shape a bright future for decades to come.
The men and women will all play a part in Expo 2020 Dubai, the historic world fair which will further cement the UAE's growing status on the global stage.
Major Hamdan Al Samt works with the Dubai Police and also founded the fashion company Caliente that designs trucker-style caps. It is among the small businesses that will supply locally produced memorabilia to the Expo 2020.
He likes to spread the message of diligence and hard work to young relatives during family gatherings.
“I tell the young to look back at our history, to see what our country has achieved in building from the desert and creating a miracle. It took a lot of effort from the royal family and from the previous generations. Seeing how they worked should make us understand that we need to work harder,” said the 35-year-old whose colourful trucker-style caps are worn by high profile nationals including Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, the Crown Prince of Dubai.
“Youngsters don’t know about the life in the 1920s or even up to the 1980s. They were born into a place that they see as perfect. They live in an iconic place that foreigners want to work in. They need to remember how the rulers and the people put in time and effort to build the Emirates for us. They need to understand how everything was created from nothing. Knowing our history will help to build a strong character.”
Mr Al Samt’s grandfather was the first UAE national to work in the HSBC bank in Dubai and his father worked in the Ministry of Finance. His life lessons were imparted by these men.
“They always tried to teach me that I have to work really hard because that is how they worked all their lives,” he said.
Ahmed Al Mesmari, too, absorbed lessons from his grandfather, a fisherman in Fujairah, who started a small trade company and his father who grew the business.
As a teenager, the 28-year-old learnt how the union of the Emirates in 1971 set in motion a transformation that touched the lives of all citizens.
“My parents would talk about life before and after the Union and how over the course of five to 10 years, there was major change in the economy when the Emirates came together. They said it was easier to do business, open up companies, invest and trade with companies in other countries.
The main thing I remember my father saying is that the Union opened the doors to deal with other nationalities,” said Mr Al Mesmari who works with the event operations and waste management team of the Expo 2020 Dubai.
“My parents taught me that if you don’t know where you come from, you will not where you are going and it will be difficult to plan your future. I believe it’s important for the young to know what our country is based on, what are its foundations because this reflects our personal beliefs and values.”
He speaks to his younger siblings about his memories of how accessible the UAE’s founding father was and his breadth of knowledge.
“I like to tell them about Sheikh Zayed’s vision and how he used to talk to people and share his wisdom. It didn’t matter if you were from the royal family or just another fisherman from Fujairah. The young should know that he brought everyone together and was open to other nationalities coming to this country and setting up their lives here. His openness and hospitality is what we as a country carry inside us now.”
Layla Khalid has also witnessed first-hand the toil and effort of her grandmother and father who moved from Kenya to set up home in Sharjah before the Union.
Her roots can be traced to Yemen before they moved to East Africa.
The family is indebted to the UAE and professes deep loyalty for the country.
“Apart from the celebrations on National Day, it’s the belonging that matters. My family came here before the UAE became one country. My father and grandmother planted the flag on all of us, such is our love for the country. The unity means so much to us,” said Ms Khalid, 35, a coordinator for human resources and volunteers with the Expo team.
The second eldest of seven siblings, she said the lessons from the UAE’s past apply to each family.
“The seven emirates is all of us. The sacrifices, brotherhood and the blood given to this country brings me closer to my family and my siblings. The lessons we learn from history, I apply to my family,” she said.
Her father was in his mid-30s when he came to the UAE and worked with the UAE Central Bank before retiring.
“Seven or eight generations ago my family was in Yemen, they migrated to Kenya and via Oman to the UAE. My father and grandmother have so much appreciation for the country. My father wanted to provide for the family and that’s why he migrated here.”
“We have to thank the country’s leadership for the opportunity we have been given here and no matter how much we do for the UAE, it will not be enough. It’s about giving back as much as we can. I love travelling but when I get back I know I’m home. I can’t imagine living anywhere else. I want to stay here until I draw my last breath.”
In a divided world, Ms Khalid said the UAE was an example of harmony.
“This country will be always be a beacon of hope, peace and togetherness. Instead of people saying this is my country or my nation, we say it’s our nation our world, our globe. Togetherness is what we showcase to the world,” she said.
The seven Emiratis are associated with the world fair and work in various capacities with the Expo 2020 Dubai.
Some are staffers and others have enrolled as volunteers because they want to work on the biggest project to unfold in the country in less than two years.
Nawal Al Hossani lives in Umm Al Quwain and works in the media section of the Ajman executive council that develops the polices and strategic plans for government services in the emirate.
The 35-year-old joined the expo as a volunteer last year.
“I wanted to be part of it because it’s a national project that everyone is excited about,” she said.
“This National Day marks two years until the Expo 2020 and this makes you proud to belong to a country that has so many achievements in a short time.
“This country and its people show that you can achieve whatever you set your mind to do. But it takes dedication and commitment, you must not only work for yourself but also serve people around you,” said Ms Al Hossani.
“My country gives us everything. I got the opportunity to get my degree and go to university without any fees and do defining work. National Day is a good reminder to appreciate our country.”
Her wish for her children, aged from nine to 13, is that they imbibe the values of the previous generations.
“I hope my boys carry the same sense of pride, appreciate the gifts we have got and also give back. The opportunities we have, the values and our achievement should be transmitted to each generation.”
This sense of patriotism resonates from Aalya Al Shehhi, who wears the national flag pin on her abaya every day.
The 30-year-old is the office coordinator at the expo’s Ras Al Khaimah office. Her master’s degree thesis on the impact of the world fair on Emiratization and on the RAK emirate encouraged her to apply to work with the expo team last year.
“National Day is an opportunity for us to show our appreciation to our leaders,” she said.
“We put up flags at home and in our office and wear traditional clothes. But for me, I wear my UAE flag pin every day and not just on National Day because I’m proud to be Emirati.”
Her family, including two sisters and two brothers, cover their cars with the colours of the UAE flag and participate in the parade.
“We do this every year. This country has given us so much but the most important thing we have is safety.”
For Mahra Al Nuaimi, a graduate from Zayed University who works with expo's communications team, celebrating at parades and at home is important.
She spoke of the facilities the country provided from free education to healthcare for citizens.
“We all gather together to celebrate the day the UAE became a nation. The country has taken responsibility to provide us with health care and education. We don’t even have to think of money to study and for healthcare. Where will you find anything like that if you go to any country?” said the 22-year-old from Ajman.
The sight of thousands of people waving the red, green, white and black UAE colours thrills Sara Al Ameri from Abu Dhabi.
“There is a feeling of great happiness when you see how people are united and how everyone celebrates, not just nationals, but people of other nationalities hold up our flag,” said the 23-year-old, who graduated this year from UAE University.
She has worked with college friends to build a submarine prototype fitted with cameras and sensors to capture data and information about marine life and relay this in real time. The project was selected in the expo’s university innovation programme.
Ms Al Ameri hopes representing the country in the world fair with the project will change misconceptions about women in the Middle East.
“When people come and see Emirati ladies in our sheylas and abayas with our inventions and creations, it will change whatever stereotype they have about what UAE nationals can achieve,” she said.
Likening the nation to a mother figure, she said it was crucial to stand by the country in any adversity.
“My country is like my mother. Let’s say my county gets sick, I need to take care of her because whatever affects my country affects me and I must look out for whatever it is that my country needs.”
Ms Al Ameri works in the 3D modelling department of Bayanat, a company that provides mapping and surveying services for sectors from defence, municipality to oil and gas.
Her sense of nationalism mirrors a Syrian she remembers explaining why he did not leave the country after the war.
"He said we are like a tree with our roots in this country. You can cut the upper part and put it in another country but the roots are in this land, so we will grow and die in here. That was so inspirational and that is how we feel. I have everything I need here. I feel like a princess even if I'm not from royalty."