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Nevin Al Sukari - Abu Dhabi - Dr Abdulaziz Al Musallam during the cultural session, Animal Stories in Emirati Heritage.
“Once upon a time” are enchanting words that are unforgettable and form part of my childhood memories. I still remember weekend summer nights when my aunt used to tell stories from Arabic folklore – ‘One Thousand and One Nights’ – sailing into that imaginary magic world full of monsters, princes, princesses and magic carpets. Since then I have fallen in love with all forms of stories.
Besides being a source of entertainment, nations consider the art of narration and storytelling as part of their heritage and identity. As storytelling is an integral part of Emirati culture, Sharjah Institute of Heritage launched the Sharjah International Narrator Forum (SINF). The three-day event kicked off on Wednesday and will run till September 24 at Expo Centre Sharjah.
For its 21st edition SINF promises its visitors, specially children, an experience to remember. “Children have a big share of the programme whether training them as new narrators or drawing stories at workshops, making publications and interaction activities through screens. We also have hologram and 3D rooms for stories where the child dons a helmet and gets inside the story and plays with the story characters, specially Emirati folk tales,” said Dr Abdul Aziz Al Musallam, chairman of Sharjah Heritage Institute and Head of the Higher Organising Committee for SINF.
“With participation of 40 countries and more than 120 participants at Expo Centre for 3 days I think SINF is the place for human unity. It presents people from different countries, religions and ethnic backgrounds in a beautiful human gathering,” Dr Al Musallam said.
Highlighting the ‘Animal Stories’ slogan, SINF brings to visitors animal stories from the Emirati, Arab and world heritage. We spoke to some participant narrators, who came from around the world.
“I come from the UK, Scotland where there is a big tradition of storytelling and this is my first time at the forum. I bring stories from culture, mainly animal stories from Scotland, UK and Ireland and some other northern European folktales I will be sharing during the course of the forum. I also bring curiosity,” said Alice Fernbank, one of the participant narrators at SINF.
As a teacher and storyteller, Fernbank talked about the impact of storytelling on children. “In Scotland we have a saying, ‘We share stories eye to eye, mind to mind, heart to heart.’ So we work about this flow of energy between me and my audience and it’s different every time I can tell the same story but it responds to whatever they are whoever they are. I feel the audience, they become part of the story. The storytelling experience must have this interaction.
“I teach English to language learners in the UK. I lead workshops, I teach English through storytelling. It’s a great opportunity for children who struggle with reading to suddenly shine to be most creative as they learn in a different way and it’s exciting to do that,” said Fernbank. “I think children expecting a lot of fun share culture and heritage.”
Tales from Mexico: “I am from Mexico and this is my second time here. We have so many different cultures in Mexico today I am bringing this embroidery book for illustration.”
“So I tell stories of embroideries they are all about animals but they are all a popular tradition in Mexico. I want to show diversity through culture and stories,” said Hania, a narrator from Mexico.
“I am 13 years old, I’ve been living in the UAE for 12 years, and this is my first year in SINF. I am telling animal stories from Sri Lanka and from around the world. I’ve been invited here after publishing 3 books,” said Sanith Piyadigamage, UAE resident and participant at SINF from Sri Lanka.
“I took my narration skills from public speaking in multiple forums. My first book (Thoughts of 10 years old) during my transitional years, I wanted to jot down some thoughts and give a different perspective on tolerance and happiness and importance of acknowledging the one next to us. I like to write about what I notice in day to day life,” said Piyadigamage.
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