Road safety campaign in honour of dead student

Media students in Dubai have produced radio advertisements for a road safety foundation set up after the death of a 22-year-old.

provided photo of   Suraya Akhter. She was 22 when she died in a traffic accident in RaK

her brother has started the Suraya Foundation in her name

Courtesy Mohammed Shahnawaz
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RAS AL KHAIMAH // In an all-too-familiar scenario Ahmad goads his friend, asking him to drive a little faster to push his new car to the limit. In a few seconds their fun turns to tragedy when they are involved in an accident.
Thankfully, this particular plot line is not real. It is being portrayed during one of three radio advertisements on road safety made by media students from Murdoch University in Dubai in co-operation with the Suraya Foundation, a road safety group. The ads, which have yet to be broadcast, target drivers between the ages of 18 and 30.
The organisation was founded by Mohd Shahnawaz, who named it in honour of his sister, a 22-year-old fashion and design student who died at a U-turn in RAK on her last day of university more than a year ago. The advertisement campaign is themed 'Are You Reckless?' It is a question that they hope will stick.
"We are trying to make a change happen," said Mr Shahnawaz. "We have to really hit the emotional side and make them realise that this is very important, that you cannot drive recklessly. We want to get people while they're driving and change their driving methods."
Mr Shahnawaz vowed to raise road safety awareness after his sister's death, successfully mounting a campaign to have the site of her accident closed. He then turned his attention to reaching a wider audience and scripted radio ads in English, Hindi and Arabic. He contacted friends at Murdoch University who offered to produced the ads free of charge, a saving of about Dh20,000.
The volunteers took their mission very seriously. Jawad Qazi, a 20-year-old marketing student, drew on his own experience when he did the voice of an Indian man rushing to work while on the phone with his wife. He donated his efforts in honour of his brother's best friend, who was killed in a car accident.
"It wasn't acting because when you think about it, the emotion just comes out naturally," he said. "I saw what my family and his family went through. He had just graduated from university when he passed away and they were relying on him."
Sharath Ravi, a third-year media student who directs the university's student productions programme, said it was important that listeners could identify with the characters so they could link the ads to their own experiences.
"Just the fact that we know people who have been in serious accidents definitely motivated us," said Mr Ravi, a 21-year-old from India who grew up in Dubai. "We didn't just want to bring in a student who had a good voice. We wanted someone who felt something for this issue.
"We want to get the point across that being a man is not about driving fast. Being a man is having the maturity to drive carefully."
The Suraya Foundation is not registered as an official charity and cannot receive individual donations. It is seeking a sponsor to pay for 10 daily slots of 45 seconds for three months at a cost of more than Dh100,000. Mr Shahnawaz and Mr Ravi believe radio is the best means of reaching drivers despite the hefty price tag.
"In countries like the Emirates, whether you're a student or an elderly person you will spend a certain number of hours listening to the radio every day," said Mr Ravi. "Almost every member will be on the road at some point of the day. That's almost a guarantee."
Mr Shahnawaz plans to track the success of the campaigns following their release. His goal is to encourage the government to continue year-round road safety campaigns and measure their effectiveness.
In the meantime, he continues to explore other means of spreading road safety awareness, including his petition for the closure of the U-turn where his sister died. He will be speaking at Gulf Safety Week in Abu Dhabi and has worked with the illustrator Rayden Kusumo on Twitter.
"We want the government to spread awareness and secondly we want the government to adopt effective campaign methodology," said Mr Shahnawaz. "It's not just making the radio ads and throwing them out there. You have to measure them."
More information can be found at www.surayafoundation.com
azacharias@thenational.ae