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"My father's motto in life has always stuck with me. He used to say: 'only givers get'. By that, he meant if you give back to people, your life will be enriched."

Speaking to Khaleej Times following the announcement of winners of the Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum Awards for Distinguished Academic Performance, Dr Sangeeth Ibrahim, winner of the 'Distinguished Family Award' - one of only five families awarded (two Indian and three Arab) - said he accounts for only one quarter of the deserving win. "My wife, Dr Sunayna Iqbal, my 15-year-old son, Amaan Iqbal Ibrahim and my 8-year-old daughter Jehan Ibrahim are behind the winning of this award."

His family was one of the 248 students, teachers and educators awarded for contributions towards education. Co-founder of Dubai-based NGO 'Destination Success UAE', Indian expatriates Ibrahim and Iqbal founded the online support system back in 2013.

Described as a "unique platform that connects students, parents and teachers, to facilitate dialogues, and induce creative tensions," Ibrahim said the key to better learning is collaboration.

"With the right motivation and support, children will be more inclined to do well at school. We need to teach them how to revise, how to listen."

Ibrahim and his wife have been teaching in schools across the UAE for more than 12 years, free of charge. If a student is having difficulties or is struggling in class, a school will schedule a session with the duo, who will then come in and teach the troubled student.

"Looking at the academic scenario here, only about five per cent of students do really well, and a lot do just average. We think with the right support kids can do better. It is a question of will and skill," he said.

Ibrahim and Iqbal were nominated for the award by Our Own English High School, Sharjah (Boys), and supported by Our Own English High Schhol, Sharjah (Girls).

"Both of us are trainers and both of us want to give back to society. I think that's why we were nominated for this award."

Giving up many weekends to work with struggling students, the duo - who both received PhD's last year - said they will continue their efforts towards better education.

"When I found out we won, I shouted out of joy. I even took today off to celebrate with my three winners," he told Khaleej Times on Tuesday.

The Ibrahims won a prize money of Dh35,000 and were one of two Indian families to win after a gap of several years. The second winner, Vinodkumar Palayil Bhaskaran Pillai - nominated by The Millennium School Dubai - could not be reached on Tuesday.

Though Ibrahim said he will plan a little family vacation with the winning, the majority will be donated to the UK charity 'Dig A Well'.

"It costs Dh700 to dig a well and each one helps support about 4 to 5 families. That is where a lot of the money will go."

Happy, honoured

Vinod Kumar Pillai, his wife Dr Sreelekha, and children, 17-year old Vimal V. Pillai and 13-year old Namitha Pillai are excited, too, for they too have won the Distinguished Family Award. Speaking to Khaleej Times of their family win, Dr Sreelekha said it was mainly down to the efforts of her children.

"In 2013 my son won the student award and in 2015 my daughter won the student award, too."

Describing the moment she found out her family were winners, Dr Sreelekha said she felt "happy and honoured".

"We do a lot of social awareness work. We are working parents but we ensure our children know how important community work is."

Regularly volunteering with Dubai Cares, Manzil Centre and Emirates Environment Group, Dr Sreelekha said her children will continue to make her proud.

"With the winning money ... we will put it towards our children's future education fund."

A total of 248 out of 375 students, teachers and educators won prize money in the 18th edition of the awards - an increase of two per cent compared to 2015.

The majority of the winners came from the Sharjah Education Zone, with 67 winners from 97 applicants. Dubai Education Zone and Knowledge and Human Development Authority had 60 winners, Abu Dhabi 40, Ajman eight and Umm Al Quwain two.

The majority of the winners (204) were students who applied for the distinguished student category.

Other categories included distinguished university student, with 17 winners; distinguished teacher with nine winners; distinguished counselor with one winner; best implemented project with three winners; best scientific innovation with two winners; distinguished school with one winner; and institutions that support education with three winners. The winners will be honoured in an award ceremony on April 20.

Page last updated 31 December 2019
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