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Emirati volunteers dispel visitors’ misconceptions at Milan Expo

DUBAI // Why do women wear black and men white? Is everybody in the UAE rich because of oil?

These were just some of the questions and misconceptions young Emiratis tackled about women and life in the UAE from visitors to the UAE pavilion at Milan Expo 2015.

The questions posed by curious visitors covered religion, history, women’s rights and education. The Emiratis hope their answers helped to spread a broader understanding about their culture and country.

“People asked why we covered our hair when it was so hot in our country; they always asked why our abayas were black and the boys could wear white,” said Emirati volunteer Amal Al Kuwaiti, a contract engineer with the Abu Dhabi Distribution Company.

“We explained that it’s about modesty and black is chosen because it’s not transparent. Also I explained how according to our religion only family members can see us when we are not covered, how everyone wears the same dress whether it is a royal family member or anyone else so there is no difference between people.

“They wanted to know if we were educated, if women were allowed to drive, study and work. It was important to help them understand the freedom we enjoy, give them answers they could understand.”

Emirati volunteers received cultural and etiquette training with the Takatof volunteering organisation before they set out for Milan. They also attended intensive Italian language classes to prepare for their three-week stay.

“Takatof’s rigorous training programme is designed to help volunteers develop their voluntary knowledge and skills training on UAE culture, traditions history and food, as well as etiquette,” said Maytha Al Habsi, chief programme officer at Emirates Foundation.

“A Takatof volunteer’s main role will be to showcase and promote the country’s culture and heritage in a positive way.

“They will act as proud ambassadors of the UAE when welcoming millions of visitors to the pavilion.”

About 400 Emirati volunteers, aged between 20 and 35, have been recruited for the six-month expo.

“One question that was often asked was if women are oppressed and are they made to feel inferior because men wear the good colour white,” said Shurouq Lashkari, who works at a television station in Dubai.

“I explained how black was a great colour. I talked about how it was because women are precious diamonds who should not be appreciated by everyone and need to be hidden that we wear black clothing.

“We got questions like whether everyone is rich because the UAE has a lot of petroleum and had to explain that each person did not own this and it was owned by the Government. We had to clear misconceptions that it was the richest country because of cheap petroleum.”

Questions also covered the harsh desert, with some volunteers being asked if they needed to search for water.

Many of the apprehensions held by volunteers were also dispelled during the expo.

“Before I went to Milan, I had the idea that they may not be accepting of us because of the sheila (head cover),” Ms Lashkari said. “But we made some close friendships with the Italian hostesses there, who helped us to talk and be understood by Italian speakers.”

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(via The National)