During their first three years at New York University Abu Dhabi, Nahuel Rosa and Irene Pañeda (both Class of 2014) have been on plenty of urban adventures around the capital. But these strolls have been more research than recreation. The purpose: to learn what residents love about their community, and learn what would make it even better.
The students had many conversations with expatriates and Emiratis who expressed a high level of interest and enthusiasm to increase their interactions with their neighbors and to find ways to contribute to society. This led Rosa and Pañeda to develop an idea that would combine elements of environmental sustainability, social cohesion and community building, and preservation of local culture and heritage through the passing down of knowledge from the elderly members of the community. The garden will also serve as a venue for educational, social, and environmental programs.
What we envision is children learning together and most importantly teaching each other; an opportunity for the locals to teach their rich culture to foreigners; and also an opportunity for foreigners to contribute directly to this nation.
"At the end of the day it was the community itself that always gave us the energy and the enthusiasm we needed to keep going," Rosa said. "I remember when we interviewed an Emirati grandmother, we explained our idea to her and suddenly she got really sad. She said she loved the idea, but she was too old to do physical work but she would like to participate and share her knowledge. That conversation was so moving that we decided to design our garden in the most inclusive way possible, giving a place to all those who might contribute in one way or another."
The students went through three stages as part of the award selection process, first submitting their initial proposal before being invited to participate in a productive workshop along with a select number of shortlisted teams.
"I cannot forget the day that I was reading in my room and suddenly received a call from one of the Musahamati organizers to inform me that we were going to give a final presentation as one of the top two teams," Pañeda said. "I was obviously quite nervous, but I was also incredibly happy because Nahuel and I had put a lot of effort into a project that we believe will mean something to the neighbourhood."
Together they refined their ideas and made their final presentation to a panel of judges, including a number of Abu Dhabi business leaders and government officials, and were selected as the first place team.
The students expressed their gratitude to the Musahamati team for believing in their project and for giving them the opportunity to bring it to life. As a first step Rosa and Pañeda will develop a taskforce of engineers, local participants, government officials, and students to help establish the foundations of the project.
"What we envision is children learning together and most importantly teaching each other; an opportunity for the locals to teach their rich culture to foreigners; and also an opportunity for foreigners to contribute directly to this nation," Rosa said. "Is it ambitious? Sure it is, just as big ideas are."
After all that exercise, they not only have the answers, but also the means to put what they learned into practice.
Congratulations to Rosa and Pañeda for winning first prize in the inaugural edition of Musahamati — which means "my contribution" in Arabic — a youth initiative by Abu Dhabi Awards that invites Abu Dhabi-based youth to submit innovative proposals to create a positive change in the local community. Their project, "A Garden for All," plans the creation of a community garden in a residential neighborhood of Abu Dhabi and was selected as the winning proposal from among approximately 250 entries.
The community garden would create a platform for neighbors in the vicinity to come together to grow their own organic, local produce and traditional medicinal and aromatic plants using water-saving gardening practices.
"We very much believe that a community garden would create a space for neighbors from different social groups to get to know each other in an organic context, for the younger generations to learn the meaning of eating and growing local, and for the elderly to share their knowledge about plants," Pañeda explained.
The best part of the project, the students say, is that the community had a role in crafting it.
"We once went to the area of a local mosque in the Al Karama neighborhood with Arabic coffee and dates and served them to the people who passed by. This created a great opportunity to talk to them and understand their motivations. These kinds of interactions were the key to developing a bottom-up approach in which the community itself would come up with the project," Rosa said.