DUBAI // Kazi Mohammed Faisal once shocked his parents by covering half the family's living room in thick swirls with dagger-sharp edges. "They went insane when they saw it," the 17 year old said.
But this weekend he was able to paint graffiti for a good purpose, at a marathon painting session at the Dubai Festival City mall as part of a day organised by an ambitious group of teenagers called the Global Youth Empowering Movement (GYEM).
The newly formed organisation aims to help young people use their talents and interests to serve their communities. It was founded by Seaon Shin, 19, a recent high school graduate, and has drawn more than 100 volunteers as well as 500 students, families and passers-by at the Festival City beautification day.
"It's really sad when you see youths my age and all they care about is drinking and clubbing," said Seaon, an American, who is taking a gap year to build up the group before she heads to university in the US. "We aid them to use their passion to do something."
"I love being able to inspire people," she said, in between greeting familiar faces at the graffiti site, a construction tunnel left standing outside a mall exit. Once stark white, it now jumps out in colour. A rainbow of bold streaks zags down its ceiling. The word "Hope" runs in thick block letters down either side in English and Arabic. The handiwork of hundreds of visitors fills every spot in between: a blue and orange dove, a ballerina with music notes and the words "Dance gives hope", a galloping horse, a cactus, gingerbread men holding hands atop a globe, an Emirati flag, a gorilla, an anime character, a sun, a "Super Onion" superhero, hearts with wings, and so on.
Seaon and other GYEM leaders held their first service project, to promote recycling, at the Terry Fox Run for cancer last November. About 30 young people set up recycling bins along the route. They designed a huge tree-like structure and invited runners to staple their plastic rubbish - water bottles, sandwich bags, marathon stickers - onto it as an monument to environmental awareness. The group is planning more events, at least one a month, they hope. Later this week they are opening a community centre, which they also painted in bright colours, where youngsters can hold workshops about issues they care about, from the environment to social justice, and brainstorm ways to help.
Also in the works are a week-long talent show, with the entrance-fee revenues being donated to labour camps, and an art exhibit whose proceeds will go to buying low-cost laptops for children in Africa.
"I like meeting new people who have the same passion as me to help others," said Kazi, his shirt, shorts, sandals and both hands smeared with paint.
Kazi, who just entered Emirates Aviation College, prefers it to the volunteer work he said he used to do on his own. During Ramadan, he walked around his neighbourhood collecting clothes and coupons to give to the poor.
Now he works surrounded by service-minded friends, from grownups to toddlers. Seven-year-old Ali Samir, sprawled on the floor in a green T-shirt, drew a smiling stick figure and wrote in black marker: "I love nice days". His three-year-old sister Raneen spraypainted a red blob onto the wall with the help of her father, Hassan.
Mr Samir had come to the mall to buy a few items. "I think we are stuck here," he said, laughing. "But if they are happy, that's fine."
Brian Batara, a Filipino sales associate at the mall, said he liked the new look of the tunnel, which he walks through every day. Sometimes he and his friends take pictures of the designs, he said.
"It's beautiful," he said. "Before it was regular."