As a group of special needs children is ushered into Dubai Garden Glow, four-year-old Hala* pauses in front of a giant multicoloured flower, looks at it in wonder and smiles at the huge, bright petals. She has Down’s Syndrome and speaks with great difficulty. Shuffling forward slowly, her eyes light up when she chances upon a group of pandas huddled around a cluster of bamboo shoots in Panda Paradise. Created in silk by talented Chinese artists and designers, they are so life-like that Hala, along with the other children, believes they’re real.
Stretching forward, she touches the arm of one of the pandas, looks intently at its face, and slowly starts caressing it.
Hala’s teacher, who is watching intently, is overwhelmed with joy. ‘This is the first time I’ve seen her do something like this,’ she says. ‘Normally, Hala is extremely reserved and keeps to herself. But here, she has been in awe of all the exhibits in the garden, pausing to see, touch or listen to all that is on display.
‘It’s just amazing how children are able to react positively to such things.’
Hala is not the only one who enjoys viewing and exploring the various installations at Dubai Garden Glow. The 20-plus children accompanying her, 12 teachers and assistants and scores of visitors in the park are equally impressed while touring the Dh30-million project by Dubai Municipality’s Children’s City that operates at Dubai Creek Park.
‘We had a week-long promotion at special needs schools, where we offered free tickets to Dubai Garden Glow for every student visiting Children’s City,’ says Chanchal Samanta, director of The Retailers Investment, the company that executed the stellar development.
‘Seeing the smiles on their faces and the awe and wonder are proof that the garden is striking the right chord. We wanted this place to be a child- and family-friendly entertainment and leisure destination, and I’m glad it is turning out to be just that.’ The installations are more than just leisure attractions, though.
‘We want children to be edutained here,’ says Chanchal. That’s why the park organised a one-week Science Carnival from February 14. ‘We offered free tickets to students and participants to visit our facility,’ he adds. ‘We wanted to drive home the message about the importance of recycling waste.’ Workshops were also organised where waste was used to create amazing recycled products including handicrafts, toys and decor pieces.
Underscoring Dubai’s commitment towards a sustainable future, Dubai Garden Glow and Children City have partnered with Dubai Municipality and are keenly involved in several activities that highlight the importance of keeping the planet green. ‘Our social message is clear – reduce waste and use recycled products,’ says Alia Mohammad Malik, head of marketing and promotions of parks at Dubai Municipality.
‘We offer discounts to students to visit Dubai Garden Glow. When they walk out after seeing everything here, they have smiles on their faces and the satisfaction of having picked up a few interesting lessons on protecting the environment and our city.’
To make information easily accessible to children, each installation at Dubai Garden Glow has a footnote detailing what it is made of, the significance of the structure, and other interesting trivia.
‘We have school tours on three out of five days a week, and more than 1,000 students have already visited,’ says Chanchal.
The highlight of the school trips are replicas of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque – made of 90,000 porcelain cups, plates and spoons – and an 11-metre-tall Burj Khalifa, recreated using 100,000 small medicine bottles filled with coloured water.
Students’ interest is piqued when they learn that these two installations could soon be certified by Guinness World Records. The replica of the mosque will go in for being made with the largest number of porcelainware, while the Burj Khalifa will be feted for being made with the biggest number of used medicine bottles.
‘They are the two showstoppers at Dubai Garden Glow, and we expect them to make it into the Guinness World Records next month,’ says Chanchal.
The initial survey by the local chapter of the iconic reference brand has already been completed. The garden is expecting the official announcement in a month.
It was Chanchal’s idea to incorporate the two structures in the park. ‘While we were travelling across the world searching for artists to work on Dubai Garden Glow, I came across a replica of a pagoda in a park in Missouri, in the US,’ he says. ‘It was fantastic, and I immediately thought of creating something intrinsic to the UAE.’
Chanchal did a lot of groundwork, visiting Japan, Taiwan and Malaysia before contracting a team of Chinese artists to work on the structures. ‘Thirty of them worked for 40 days to complete the project in time for the launch last year.
‘The installations are tributes to the iconic UAE, as well as models for recycling. All schools today make sure that students reduce waste, wdo not litter and use recycled products. These models are in line with Dubai’s commitment to a brighter, greener, healthier planet.’
Most of the exhibits in the park have been made with recycled products. For instance, 5,000 CDs were used to create lilies and flower fairies in the large pond.
Recycled materials were also used to create a unique nine-metre-tall talking tree. Made of 10,000 discarded water bottles, it has a voice-activated system, which records what you speak and plays it back. ‘It is hugely popular with kids who enjoy listening to a tree talking to them in their language and in their voice,’ says Alia.
‘This is to drive home the message that trees are one of the most valuable assets on the planet and how important it is for us to protect it.’
Of course, Dubai Garden Glow has more than just talking trees. There are several points of interest that tell stories that entertain and educate children. ‘In all there are more than 20 stories aimed to spark children’s imagination,’ says Alia. ‘It’s like telling them stories, all themed around lanterns as they light up the night in spectacular colours and vivid imagery.’
Each set partners with a botanical or zoological aspect that drives the story. For example, there’s a Tulip Garden that tells the story of the exotic flower – how it was first introduced by Leiden University to Holland (the Netherlands) in 1594, became the symbol of the European nation, and how it comes in various colours. The sheer artistic beauty of the installation will leave visitors in awe.
Then there’s the Rabbit Love and Carrot Trees section, where children get to know why rabbits have long been associated with spring and Easter in western society. The animal plays a dual role – one of prey as well as a symbol of innocence. Guides explain this to children as they walk around date palms made to resemble giant carrots.
Not all tableaux are educational, though. Some simply tell a story, such as that of a young girl who is transformed into a lotus that floats in an ocean. The lotus, handmade by Chinese artists on location in Dubai, is incredibly colourful and artistic.
‘That in essence is how Dubai Garden Glow works – with a two-pronged approach to educate children, and entertain families,’ says Chanchal.
‘Visually, it is incredible by day, and by night, it’s out of this world. We offer diverse experiences – art by day, glow by night.’
The centrepiece of the park – a recreation of the African savannah – is the cynosure of all eyes. More than 50 animals – herds of zebra, wildebeest, lions, giraffes and elephants – graze in an open grassland, and lap up water from a lake in the middle. Created in wire-and-silk, they’re lit up artfully to magical effect.
There’s also a section on feline beasts; tigers from India, lions and leopards from Africa and jaguars from Central America.
Deftly tying this up with the importance of eco-conservation, guides explain that even the African savannah is under threat due to the introduction of exotic plant species and the cutting and clearing of native ones.
‘Dubai Garden Glow has established itself as a top family attraction within a month of its launch, and we’d like to take this further by conducting workshops using recycled and eco-friendly products and materials,’ says Alia.
‘Children pave the way for the future and we would like to be a part of Dubai’s vision by making them socially aware and environmentally responsible.’