OREANDA-NEWS. December 05, 2013. Despite the advances of technology and information, words and images are a vital part of Saudi life, as was made clear last week when three young people lined up on the iThra Knowledge Program stage to receive “Reader of the Year” awards at the closing ceremony of the iRead Competition.

iRead – the latest initiative of the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture’s award-winning iThra Youth program – invited youth in the Eastern Province to compete for the “Reader of the Year” award by demonstrating their love of reading in the most creative, passionate and skilled ways possible. Young people (ages 12 to 24) responded with unbridled enthusiasm, submitting 2,500 entries for the reading competition and more than 6,000 for a corresponding photography contest.

Finalists in the reading competition were treated to an intensive training program aimed at honing their skills to demonstrate their chosen book through media such as art, calligraphy, and animation, courtesy of the Cultural Center and iThra Youth. The finalists presented their artistic interpretations with passion and flare to the iThra Knowledge public audience at sessions attended by 2,800 people. Winners were selected by a jury of community and cultural leaders at the Nov. 21 closing ceremony.

The final ceremony started with renowned Argentine-born writer Alberto Manguel talking on the joy of reading, during which he spoke philosophically and conveyed his clear passion for reading.

The sold-out audience was also witness to the first-ever showing of an Ithra Youth-commissioned film, “The Book of Sands.” Directed by Bader Al-Hamoud, the stirring film was inspired by a book of the same name by the late Argentine writer Jorge Borges, with two well-known Saudi social media stars as Masters of Ceremony.

“The event was the embodiment of the Cultural Center as an engine of inspiration, engagement, and societal transformation,” commented vice president of Saudi Aramco Affairs Mohammed Al-Qahtani.

At the time the award winners were announced, the audience was treated to an impromptu and emotional scene, when a close relative of one iRead winner climbed onto the stage to honor one of the winners by presenting her with a homemade wreath.

Among the attendees were Saudi Aramco president and CEO Khalid A. Al-Falih, and numerous other company leaders. Among the iRead program’s special visitors were former Saudi Aramco president and CEO Abdallah S. Jum’ah and director general of Education for the Eastern Province Abdulrahman Almuderes, as well as national and international authors, VIPs, and artists.

iRead is a pilot program of iThra Youth in the Eastern Province and may be expanded in 2014. The King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture is a major undertaking on the part of Saudi Aramco to create a beacon of knowledge, creativity, and cross-cultural engagement in the Kingdom.  A key initiative of the Cultural Center, iThra Youth strives to inspire young people to be lifelong learners, creative innovators and critical thinkers through innovative programs such as iRead, iDiscover and iSpark Mobile.

Reading winners: Nora Jaafar (middle school), Mohammad al-Jugaiman (high school), Fahad Musharraf (university).