Pageant volunteers gain patience skills coaxing camels

Organisers heap praise on the volunteers as Al Dhafra Festival featuring the camel beauty pagent draws to end.

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Al GharBia // Organisers of the Al Dhafra Festival yesterday paid tribute to the dozens of volunteers who made the festival and camel beauty pageant tick.

Many of the young volunteers had never dealt with camels before, but by the end of the 10-day event, they said they had learned to persuade the notoriously stubborn creatures into obeying their commands.

As the festival neared its conclusion yesterday, the men, who were aged in their teens and early 20s, had dealt with about 20,000 entrants from across the GCC countries.

"They are the heroes of the festival," said Abdulla al Qubaisi, the director of the communications department at the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage (Adach), which organised the festival and sponsored certain events.

The volunteers' work was split between managing the camels, logging the details of entrants and providing technical support for media operations.

Those picked to look after the camels had to move them between judging areas, feed them and return those that did not qualify to their owners. With a variety of breeds on display, some more willing to co-operate than others, the task required a variety of techniques to cajole them into moving.

Rashid Saeed, 20, a third-year diploma student at a vocational college in Abu Ahabi, said he was once afraid of camels, but became a skilled hand at interacting with them and feeding them.

The volunteers underwent hours of training to get acquainted with the animals and the workings of a typical camel festival, said Saeed Saif al Khaswani, the training supervisor at Fazaa, the organisation that supplied the student volunteers.

"Most of them have not dealt with a camel, hence they were afraid in the beginning," he said.

Mr al Khaswani took the students to his farm in Sweihan to gain some hands-on experience of handling the animals.

"They realised that camels respond well to kind and gentle treatment," he said.

But not all of the volunteers had to deal with the camels.

Fahad Marzuk Basheer, 18, an IT student who studies at the same college as Mr Saeed, helped to register the thousands of participants in the festival.

"I am learning to work in teams," he said. "I am making new friends and working from 5am to 5pm."

Sultan Salem, 22, also an IT student at the college, said: "I have learned to keep patient in high-pressure situations and I've learned about my heritage and how my forefathers lived."

Mr al Qubaisi said that Fazaa, which means to serve others, sought to provide a positive example to young Emiratis.

"The group emphasises the quality of our hospitality through providing various forms of support to artistic, cultural and heritage-related activities in Abu Dhabi," he said.