Ambassador Lana Nusseibeh presented her credentials as Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the United Arab Emirates to the United Nations in New York in September 2013. She also presented her credentials as non-resident Ambassador of the UAE to Grenada in November 2017. Ambassador Nusseibeh served as Co-Chair of the Intergovernmental Negotiations on Security Council Reform for three sessions of the UN General Assembly from 2017 to 2020.
She previously served as Vice-President of the General Assembly for the 72nd session. She has also served as President of the UN Women Executive Board in 2017, as Co-facilitator of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Revitalization of the UN General Assembly for the 71st session of the General Assembly, and as Co-facilitator for the overall review of the implementation of the outcomes of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in 2015.
Alongside the Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom, Ambassador Nusseibeh Co-Chairs the Friends of the Future of the UN (FFUN), a small group of Permanent Representatives who convene regularly for briefings and unscripted, substantive discussions on the most pressing issues affecting the future of the organization. In 2017, she was awarded the UAE Prime Minister’s Government Excellence Award (the UAE Medal of Pride).
Prior to her appointment as Permanent Representative to the UN, Ambassador Nusseibeh served in several capacities within the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs, establishing the Ministry’s Policy Planning Department in 2009 and serving as its first Director for three years. During this time, she was also the UAE Deputy Sherpa at the G20 Leaders’ Summit under the Presidency of France in 2011. From 2010 –2011, she also served as the UAE Co-Special Envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Previously, she was the Head of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) Campaign Task Force at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Director of Research and Communications for the Ministry of State for Federal National Council Affairs.
Ambassador Nusseibeh received an MA (Cantab) and BA (Hons) in History from the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, and an MA with Distinction in Israeli and Jewish Diaspora Studies from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London in 2003. She is a member of the Board of Trustees of the Emirates Diplomatic Academy, Treasurer on the Board of Directors of Security Council Report (SCR), and serves on the Advisory Board of The London School of Economics’ Middle East Centre.
‘As for the public response to initiatives, following the September 2017 Pledge a Library launch, the foundation received 100 promises for donations in its first ten days – testament to the country’s respect for the importance of reading and literature.’
Kalimat Foundation began operations in 2016, to protect the rights of vulnerable and visually disabled children, and their ability to access books. The period was marked by obdurate civil conflict in the Middle East, including Syria, from where large populations fled to new countries and new cultural contexts. The same decade was also signified by growing requests from host nations for Arabic literature. Hand in hand with this call to action, to serve children in new territories and communities, came the step to support the literacy of visually impaired and blind youth, again underserved in their access to suitable reading material.
The paths taken by our Pledge a Library and Ara programmes, have not been without challenge. Regarding Pledge a Library, administering logistics was sometimes very hard, as was receiving approvals where security concerns arose, particularly in public libraries and refugee camps. With Ara, decisions and book deliveries were hampered by obstacles ranging from a lack of guidelines supporting the production of accessible books, to a dearth in population demographics and scant information on organisations that serve those children.
Kalimat Foundation’s credibility has, nonetheless, been widely recognised, thanks to the standing of Kalimat Group in publishing and in the capacity for tailoring books based upon recipient demands. With effort, diligence and assistance from the United Arab Emirates’ foreign missions, 22,405 books have since made their way, or been committed to, migrant camps, migrant and community centres, libraries, schools and hospitals around the world. Here is a brief summary on how we have progressed on programming in the past five years.
In May 2017, a singular 1,000 book donation made to Emirati-Jordanian camp, a forerunner to Pledge a Library, was followed by a subsequent visit in September, with the purpose of celebrating the Islamic Eid Al Adha festival with its children.
These occasions, delivering insight to the existence that refugees live, and the lack of literary resources, spurred the further development of the foundation’s book distribution programming.
As for the public response to initiatives, following the September 2017 Pledge a Library launch, the foundation received 100 promises for donations in its first ten days – testament to the country’s respect for the importance of reading, literature and culture.
A first shipment of collections to Paris in March 2018, resulted in their utility for the country’s national Arabic reading competition. One of our readership swept first prize and gained entry to the Arab Reading Challenge in Dubai. Following Paris, requests came pouring in for Pledge a Library, where the foundation’s response transformed in a manner, to quenching a thirst for books. Europe became an arena needing literacy support in Arabic, though welfare systems tend to be robust. In Italy, to help bridge the cultural gap, bilingual books were produced as result of partnership between Gallucci Publishing and Kalimat Group.
Jordan’s refugee camps on the other hand represented a different reality where schooling and education have been more limited. It is possibly for this reason that our books were integrated into extracurricular programmes.
Consequently, the library at Emirati Jordanian camp has become a social hub for its boys and girls who, excited with the arrival of new book collections, have stated their wish for all-night sit-ins and sleepovers. Further north, at Zaatari, the foundation donated 20 libraries to Blumont in order to help build a respectable collection covering the settlement’s large population. Book clubs, storytelling gatherings, character role plays subsequently became new community repertories here, as they did in other parts of the world receiving donations. Added to this, with the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic and the restrictions on movement, books became a useful aid to while time away for the children to read while in their caravan homes.
As for the Ara programme, in 2018 the foundation undertook a regional survey to gain a firsthand, unique understanding of resources and needs amongst visually disabled child populations. Close to 20,000 youngsters were identified, together with information on age groups, teaching resources, teaching methods, literature available, literature in demand and the capacity to use technology. Such data has provided a privileged view upon which our strategy is based. A partnership agreement with the Accessible Books Consortium on collaboration in accessible publishing in Arabic, followed suit in November 2018 and training provided to regional imprints five months later. In reflection of the advances made by Ara, the programme was shortlisted for the Accessible Books Consortium International Excellence Awards in February 2020 under the initiative category. Furthermore, following the production of 100 books in Arabic using the EPUB3 format in April 2020, the foundation anticipates the online publication of its books on the ABC Global Book Service for worldwide availability.
Progress has not come without witnessing some of the harsh realities experienced by those that the foundation seeks to serve. A number of youngsters in refugee camps for instance, evidence prodigious talent, redoubled by blazing ambition to do well in life. However, they are greatly limited in their access to material that would help them advance. English literature and grammar, science, astronomy, maths and music being examples. Where the foundation has not been able to offer direct support, it has taken requests and amplified needs to international organisations capable of such supply. In this regard we do our best to extend help within our networks.
Reeling from the effects of the pandemic, 2020 was a hard year, not least for global publishing and those whom Kalimat Foundation works to serve. The ecosystem was thrown into flux defining new considerations and new equilibrium. Books continued to be delivered to the Hekaya Arts literary initiative in Kenya where the schooling system was severely affected, and to Siilaanyo library in Hargeisa in the Somaliland region. Active communication continued with a number of beneficiaries across the globe, whose operations were also badly interrupted.
During lockdown, the foundation’s strategy with Ara, to give every child material in braille, large print and audio worked particularly well with one-on-one reading where parents in some instances used the large print, or listened to audio recordings, while their son or daughter read braille.
Notwithstanding the benefits delivered in print formats; e-books and digital libraries have also become very popular. As such the objective now is to allocate resources to print and digital publishing on an equal split. The new move involves international collaboration, and we expect the best of both worlds.
2021 represents an exciting stage, pushing forward and advancing further in supporting literacy amongst the underserved. Together with the development of accessible digital publishing and distribution via online platforms and traditional formats, the year ahead also represents expansion into Africa and further afield. In this regard, we are delighted to announce partnership with Book Aid International to help cement the effective achievement in our planning and distribution.
Our effort thus continues to leverage a number of global partners in publishing, technology, national and international government, and organisations in the charities segment. Kalimat Foundation’s mission is to serve vulnerable and visually disabled children, to provide them with knowledge and ideas in books, through a number of accessible formats. In this it is believed that the underserved are to find the chance to develop and achieve greater prospects in life, and fittingly, greater reward.
The Kalimat Foundation team
Sheikha Jameela Al Qasimi is Director General of Sharjah City for Humanitarian Services. Her work involves advocating disability rights in education, employment, rehabilitation, recreationand sports. In this regard, she has dedicated her work to promote community advancement and social development for such persons of determination, through awareness, integration, and empowerment.
Accordingly, throughout a career centred in community cohesiveness and strength, she has presided over programme strategies, driven innovation and headed public campaigns, resulting in greater social inclusion for persons with disabilities, in the Emirates and in the region. Further to her bachelor’s degree in psychology, Sheikha Jameela graduated with a master’s in business administration.
Bodour Al Qasimi is the Founder and Chairperson of Kalimat Foundation and the Founder and CEO of Kalimat Group. She also holds numerous other titles, including Founder and Patron of the UAE Board on Books for Young People, Chairperson of the Africa Publishing Innovation Fund, Founder and Honorary President of the Emirates Publishers Association, and, since January 2021, President of the International Publishers Association(IPA).
Through Kalimat Foundation, Bodour has driven a literary mission, channeling books to children separated from Middle Eastern homelands and residing in refugee and migrant communities around the world, and furthermore supplying accessible formats to visually disabled youth. Currently representing the largest federation within the global publishing industry, setting direction for, and advancing its functions, Bodour Al Qasimi continues to strengthen the IPA agenda on freedom to publish and copyright issues. On the development front, under her guidance, a partnership between the IPA and UAE-based Dubai Cares led to the founding of the Africa Publishing Innovation Fund, committed to supporting literacy, book access, indigenous publishing, and library restoration across the continent.
Bodour has also played a pivotal role in cementing Sharjah’s position as an international centre for publishing, resulting in its nomination as UNESCO World Book Capital 2019. A moderniser with a desire for change, Bodour’s advocacy of female roles in publishing crossed a significant milestone in 2019, with the formation of PublisHer, an informal network that seeks to augment the number of women in leadership roles within the publishing industry. Bodour graduated with a bachelor’s degree in archaeology and anthropology from Cambridge University, and a master’s degree in medical anthropology from University College London.
Isobel Abulhoul has lived in Dubai since 1968 and co-founded Magrudy’s, a bookshop chain, in 1975 which is still thriving and has eight bookshops across the UAE. In 2008 Isobel founded the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, the Middle East’s largest celebration of the written and spoken word. In 2013, HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, and also the Festival’s patron, issued a Decree establishing the Emirates Literature Foundation, naming Isobel as one of the trustees on the Board and holds the position of CEO.
She is also a Trustee of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction Board, Secretary General of the Kalimat Foundation and a director of the Board for the Mohammed Bin Rashid Library. In addition, Isobel has been elected to the Supreme National Committee for Tolerance and has been selected as a member of the Police Advisory Council for Community Service.
Isobel has received several awards and accolades over the years such as Cultural Personality of the Year by Dr. HH Sheikh Sultan Bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, the Ruler of Sharjah in 2010, and the prestigious OBE award by HM Queen Elizabeth of Great Britain in 2012. Isobel’s passion and drive for culture, education and literature remains as strong as ever.
Majid Jafar is the CEO of Crescent Petroleum, the Middle East’s oldest private oil & gas company, and Vice-Chairman of the Crescent Group of companies which includes interests in port management, logistics, venture capital, private equity and real estate. He is also Managing Director of the Board of Dana Gas (PJSC), the leading publicly-listed natural gas company in the Middle East, in which Crescent is the largest shareholder.
His previous experience was with Shell International’s Exploration & Production and Gas & Power Divisions. In addition to his professional commitments, Majid Jafar is an advocate of responsible energy and sustainable development, and serves on the Energy Business Council of the International Energy Agency (IEA), the Advisory Board of the Responsible Energy Forum, the Stewardship Board of the Global System on Energy at the World Economic Forum, and the Board of Trustees of the Arab Forum for Environment and Development (AFED). He promotes education and youth employment and is a Board Member of the Queen Rania Foundation and the Kalimat Foundation for Children’s Empowerment, as well as a founding patron of the Prince’s Trust International. He also serves on the Panel of Senior Advisers of the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House) in London, the International Advisory Board of The Atlantic Council in Washington DC, and the Board of Fellows of Harvard Medical School, and is a member of the GCC Board Directors Institute and the Young Presidents Organization (YPO), an Accredited Director of the Institute of Directors (IoD Mudara),and has been named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum.
Majid Jafar attended Eton College and graduated from Cambridge University (Churchill College) with Bachelor and Masters Degrees in Engineering (Fluid Mechanics and Thermodynamics). He also holds an MA (with Distinction) in International Studies and Diplomacy from the University of London’s School of Oriental & African Studies (SOAS), an MBA (with Distinction) from the Harvard Business School, and an Executive Certificate in Public Policy from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.
‘We have had on two occasions girls come to the library and literally jump up and down with joy when they saw the books.’
Three and half years on from its November 2017 launch, Pledge a Library partners and recipients have commented on results arising from book donations. A number of common gains have emerged, some of which were foreseen from the outset, while others have transpired with time. The development of literacy in Arabic and its contribution to formal education, is considered a key benefit amongst organisations receiving books on the Pledge a Library programme. In northern Jordan’s Zaatari camp, housing a population of about 80,000 refugees from Syria, Blumont, a not-for-profit organisation responsible for a community-based protection project, manages the libraries sent by Kalimat Foundation.
According to Siraj Al-Hmoud, the senior camp manager, up to 2,000 children aged from two to 17 years old, have access to the books. Through Blumont’s Tiger reading club, literacy has become an integral component to a holistic learning framework constituting Arabic and English languages, ICT and art. Outreach programmes that push into Zaatari’s districts by way of mobile libraries, have also been implemented to foster community spirit. Libraries in the refugee camp have subsequently become a cornerstone of everyday life, in which children, parents, businesses and institutions all partake in lending and reading opportunities.
Elsewhere, in East Africa, in the Somaliland region, Siilaanyo public library in Hargeisa, hosts 30 schools and 120 pupils a week, where the foundation’s books occupy a children’s corner used in group reading sessions. Hargeisa is a city that accommodates migrant communities from the Horn of Africa, who find residence for economic purpose, or who arrive having been displaced because of conflict, insecurity or drought. The public library is as such a unique service providing a formative stage for literacy development. In Kenya, Hekaya Arts’ Sona Sama initiative, has plans to employ the collection donated to it, to encourage a multilingual reading culture encompassing Kiswahili, English and Arabic amongst schools in its network. Accordingly, the progression of language education in Africa, has embodied a new phase in Pledge a Library’s evolution. Social interaction, community development and achievement amongst migrant groups, reflects another key role for the programme.
In Vandoeuvre-lès-Nancy two sisters amongst Kalimat Foundation’s book readership in France, came first and third in the country’s 2018 national Arabic language reading competition. For Tasnim, the elder sibling, 12 years old at the time, the accomplishment gained her participation at the Arab Reading Challenge in Dubai, in the same year. It is for a similar purpose; to prepare for the international competition, that children have visited Athens-based We Need Books, an NGO providing multilingual libraries for the city’s residents. Beyond this, states Ioanna Nissiriou, co-founder of the Greek reading initiative, ‘We have had on two occasions girls come to the library and literally jump up and down with joy when they saw the books.’
Strengthening cultural ties thus forms another bedrock of the programme, where preserving homeland traditions is seen as key to cementing belonging and developing confidence. One partner vested in the Pledge a Library programme is Italy’s section of the International Board on Books for Young People. With regard to migrant and refugee communities, Marcella Terrusi, an IBBY volunteer and assistant professor in education at the University of Bologna states the importance of reading in the mother tongue, and keeping links with identity and origins, to improve prospects in later life. She goes on to assert that in linguistics, studies suggest that youngsters should sustain the native language in order to learn a new one. Parallel language development, hence considered a critical factor for integration, was further aided by the production of bilingual titles in Arabic and Italian, through partnership between Italy’s Gallucci publishing and Kalimat Group. Hence in 11 libraries across Italy, in cities, villages and islands, the Pledge a Library collections are understood to form a bridge, leading toward development, stability and growth.
In similar vein in Brazil, Deise Zanardi of SP Leituras, the São Paulo Association of Libraries and Reading, an NGO whose objective it is to promote culture, reading and literature, goes further to comment, that learning about others – an important theme running through Kalimat books – is encouraged amongst children from varying national backgrounds when they come and visit.
The holding onto cultural bonds marks the purpose for which São Paolo’s Escola Islâmica Brasileira was founded by Lebanese migrants, states Imam Al Bukai, one of its directors, where the foundation’s books are seen as fitting its purpose.
The availability of print books has constituted another paramount benefit amongst recipients, particularly in poorer areas where electricity and mobile data access are limited; a point reinforced by Clair Bradley, trusts and foundation manager of the United Kingdom’s Book Aid International, responsible for the Hargeisa book delivery. Similarly, Abdulrahman Ndegwa, managing director and curator of the Hekaya Arts Initiative identifies the intimacy and closeness that books in physical form engender, ‘Closeness, as we say, breeds affection, and affection breeds love.’ A closeness and love that many parents will recognise, in the level of absorption that their children derive in reading, and more, their desire to narrate stories just read.
Pledge a Library is set to move further ahead in 2021, with plans to extend its reach to places where underserved youngsters need books in the Arabic language. In the provision of libraries, and of engaging stories and characters, the drive for equitable literacy is expected to accelerate, as is the forging of gains so far realised and new ones, leading to more literate, more confident persons in adulthood and the better ability to face a future world.
‘The key is always education. If children who are blind, visually impaired or otherwise print disabled can complete their schooling and experience no barriers in obtaining a higher education, the sky is the limit.’
The universe in which visually disabled children are educated, and cared for, requires substantial attention to needs. One that is embodied by manifest purpose, to guide and set a path for those whose worlds are shrouded in darkness, or obscurity, and where light, colour and form can be non-existent. Managing the futures of youth with such incapacity hence demands great responsibility. Where Kalimat Foundation has offered its support in aiding literacy, we have asked programme partners and recipients on some of the outcomes resulting from Ara interventions.
In respect to organisations that have benefited from, and supported Ara, their remits are often wide-ranging and include schooling and enrolment into education, life skills development, health, welfare and the progression of accessible publishing. In the Middle East context, where books in Arabic are often not readily available, Kalimat Foundation has worked to identify how best it can encourage reading.
With regard to Ara’s distribution, the giving of accessible books in different formats, namely braille, large print and audio is widely recognised as being a key advantage, to cater to both visually impaired and blind audiences. In addition, amongst recipients, the availability of audio books has been particularly supportive, for the reason that it allows sharing and understanding amongst people of differing abilities. In reference to the foundation’s large print books, these have been distinguished by their visible lettering, spacing, and colour schemes, for clear legibility, according to Anjad Zahdeh of the Blind Charitable Society in Hebron.
On the other hand, significant emphasis is given on the provision of books in print braille format, a costly publishing resource in some parts of the Middle East. This factor pointed to by Khaled Al Ahmed, assistant director at Al Noor School in Kuwait City, has been much valued when positioned against both the suitability of titles for the school’s pupils and the respective outlay it would require in purchasing such material.
The Emirates Association of the Visually Impaired, amongst whose objectives it is to build skills for productive lives, is a partner and beneficiary on the Ara programme. This organisation, guides on the correct use of braille language in Arabic, and prints Kalimat titles in braille. Commenting on the foundation’s work, Mais Ahmed of the EAVI mentions that effort amongst institutions to support publishing for the visually disabled develops greater awareness, open mindedness and acceptance, resulting in integration throughout society. Such beliefs are echoed by Majd Al Shehhi, initiatives director at 1001 Titles, a publishing programme and collaborator with Ara, that aims to encourage creativity in authoring in the Emirates, and develop recognition for accessible books.
Ara is set to spread its wings in 2021, with wider global reach and the integration of digital accessible content, to extend access to more visually disabled readers. On this matter, Monica Lövblad, head of the Accessible Books Consortium, asserts that in the employment of technology, publishers can make their books born accessible, and hence available from the beginning to the visually disabled. If born accessible publishing is not available, she continues, source digital files could be offered to libraries or associations for the blind, that own the resources to convert literature more easily to the right formats.
As for expectations on what the blind and visually impaired could achieve if reading technologies were made available, ‘The key is always education’ continues Ms. Lövblad, ‘If children who are blind, visually impaired or otherwise print disabled, can complete their schooling and experience no barriers in obtaining a higher education, the sky is the limit.’
Through working hard, and in keeping faithful to the literacy needs of those who cannot see, the foundation has taken strides to ensure that blind and visually impaired youth stay in touch with the future, in order that they keep step with the world as it advances.
As a publisher and a mother, seeing my children’s eyes light up when they open a book for the first time, I find it hard to accept that millions of boys and girls are still not able to benefit from the joy that reading presents. It has subsequently become my mission, to deliver books into the hands of underserved youth in the region and worldwide, with the belief that we owe vulnerable young minds a better narrative in life.
Reading ignites curiosity, sparks the imagination, encourages dialogue and opens the doors to a variety of creative possibilities. I want to bring this magic into as many lives as possible. In 2016, I launched Kalimat Foundation to empower underprivileged children through books, with the expectation that this might lead toward literacy and more prosperous futures. In honour of this pursuit, we have since sent collections to communities in rural areas, hospitals, orphanages, refugee camps, libraries and schools. Our greatest distribution efforts are for displaced children from the Middle East, largely affected by war, and those with visual disabilities. The contribution toward the former aims to preserve the cultural identity for ones separated from their homelands, and to promote the region’s heritage and the Arabic language. For the blind and visually impaired, the objective is to develop literacy to advance self-dependence and integration into society.
Every project and programme launched revolves around our purpose. We have in total, committed and delivered a touch above 22,400 books in 23 countries. Through the ‘Pledge a Library’ initiative, 12,500 books have been donated offering access to an approximate 89,000 youngsters in four continents. We have further received delightful news of the evolution of book clubs comprising our titles, in recipient locations around the world. With Ara, meaning ‘I see’ in Arabic, the foundation offers audio, large-print, and print braille books to visually disabled boys and girls, and their families in order that they read, or listen to, stories together.
Correspondingly, insight is offered in this report on our activity, progress, international footprint, recipient and partner input, as well as statistics on book distribution. I am grateful to our partners, for the diligence and support given in advising where to deliver books and libraries, and for their involvement in publishing. I would also like to thank our sponsors for the very generous donations, making this endeavour for knowledge possible. Covid-19 has been exceptionally challenging for children’s education and the drive toward literacy. It has accelerated the need to develop online technologies in reading support – a format that is being called for, from places as far afield as Zaatari refugee camp in northern Jordan to São Paulo in Brazil.
We shall continue to work very hard to nurture underserved boys and girls, to promote reading’s transformative potential, and pass on the best of our living culture. A better future sits between the pages of many books. The purpose that began as a seed in a mother’s mind, is now a global movement that we hope will take root, diversify and grow. Our ultimate goal is to close the literacy gap and drive more equitable futures for those who experience tremendous difficulties at a young age.
Bodour Al Qasimi, Founder and Chairperson